“You are coming with us and we will issue you new documents,” police told the 22-year-old Bakhtiar. The Afghan was convinced that this was the thing that would help him realize his dream of starting a new life in Europe, DW writes.
Shooting on the border between Turkey and Greece at the Evros River
Two months earlier, the young man had entered Greece from Turkey, crossing the Maritsa border river by boat, a key route for refugees trying to reach the EU. He then went to the Diavata refugee camp near Thessaloniki, but before that he duly registered with the Greek authorities – a prerequisite for protection and a first step in the asylum process. His documents date back to 12 February 2020.
Over 3 million in the world infected with COVID-19, Trump: We are not happy with China
In April, Bakhtiyar was put in a white van and taken to a police station in Thessaloniki, where, however, instead of the promised new documents, police confiscated everything, including his mobile phone. He was later loaded onto a truck heading east. When he stopped, Bakhtiyar found himself on the shores of Maritsa again – with many other asylum seekers like him. They began to load them on small boats – a dozen in one. The boatman spoke Greek to the police and the refugees in their native language. SG could not determine with certainty whether the police officers were genuine. But according to Bakhtiar, it was clear that this was not the first time a man with a boat had carried such a “load”.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the border between Greece and Turkey has been closed and all repatriation procedures have been suspended. When Bakhtiyar and the other refugees were dumped on the Turkish coast, no one was expecting them there.
A boat with migrants turned into the Danube, eight are missing
What Bakhtiar said is not an isolated case. A journalistic investigation by the State Gazette, the Dutch newspaper Trouw, the non-profit organization Lighthouse Reports and the independent investigation group Bellingcat found that other refugees had been forcibly returned from Greece to Turkey. Their profile: men under 30 traveling alone. Most of them are Afghans, but there are also Pakistanis and North Africans. Some of them were arrested in the Diavata refugee camp, while others were detained by police near the camp.
Investigative journalists were able to gather evidence, incl. eyewitness accounts in Greece and Turkey and police records clearly stating that there were illegal deportations of refugees from Greece to Turkey.
One of those returned to Turkey was Rashid, who fled Afghanistan three years ago and worked as a porter in Turkey for some time before succeeding with a dozen other refugees to cross the Maritsa by boat. He lived in a tent near the Diavata refugee camp for two months. At the end of March this year, on his return from Friday prayers, he was stopped by armed men in civilian clothes, who pushed him into a white van and took him to a nearby police station. Rashid is convinced that these men worked closely with the police, and the SG could not confirm the connection between the non-uniformed men and the police.
Coronavirus: It is dangerous that Bulgarians live so cramped
There are many other reports of deportations across the Maritsa River. Journalists have found that at least five police operations took place in the Diavata refugee camp from March 31 to May 5, most likely aimed at the illegal return of dozens of refugees to Turkey. The existence of the illegal practice was also confirmed by Vassilis Papadopoulos, director of the Greek Refugee Council and a former employee of the migration authorities under the previous government.
Asked by the State Gazette, a spokesman for the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum described as “fabricated, untrue and unconfirmed” the allegations of human rights violations by Greek security forces.
In violation of European law
Greece and other countries on the EU’s external border, such as Croatia, have been accused of persecuting migrants. Former International Federation for Human Rights President Dimitris Christopoulos said: “Obviously this tactic is in violation of the Greek constitution and customary international law, but is tolerated by the EU as it serves to block the refugees’ way across the Aegean Sea. and the Maritsa River on its way to Europe “.
Jurgen Bast, a professor of European law at the University of Giessen in Germany, sees a clear violation of the law in these practices for returning refugees: “This contradicts everything provided for in European law,” he told the State Gazette.
None of the witnesses was informed by the authorities that he would be returned, as provided for in the procedure, nor was he explained what rights he had.
20 migrants with coronavirus in Greece
Lost hopes for life in Europe
Rashid now lives with 10 other young Afghans in Istanbul. And because he resides in Turkey without documents, he is in danger of being sent back to Afghanistan. According to official figures from the Turkish government, authorities have detained more than 300,000 Afghans in the past two years. Since 2018, Turkey has provided extremely difficult asylum to Afghan citizens.
“I have to get to Europe”
Desperate to be trapped, Rashid continues to frantically look for ways to reach Europe. “I do not know what I will do here. But I know that I have no guilt, and that I will keep trying to cross the border again. I have to continue on this path, “he said.