Enforced Disappearance & Expulsion at Greece’s Evros Border
Photo: Collective expulsion at Evros 2018
For decades, Greece has subjected refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who attempt to cross the border from Turkey to violent summary expulsions. When the EU-Turkey Deal of 2016 challenged the ability of asylum seekers to reach Greece by sea, attempted crossings increased across the Evros river, the land border between Greece and Turkey. When this happened, Greece’s pushbacks gradually became systematic. In this long-practiced and increasingly-documented system of summary and collective expulsions, Greek police apprehend individuals in the border region, detain them incommunicado, strip their legal documentation and belongings, and expel them across the river to Turkey on rubber boats. The practice is often carried out with the help of masked commandos, who have been heard speaking other European languages.
The EU and UN, as well as leading international human rights groups, have all documented and condemned the severity of such acts. Yet, the scale of these acts has intensified. European institutions have stood by, pointing the finger at the Greek authorities, despite the remarkable number of eyewitness testimonies noting the presence of non-Greek speaking officers on the scene. ‘Serious incident’ reports by Frontex, the Border and Coast Guard Agency of the EU, have indicated that the agency is most probably aware of such allegations.
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The legal submission made use of evidence in a report compiled by Forensic Architecture which reconstructed events with survivor testimony and input
The Greek-Turkey border is around 200 kilometres (120 mi) long and mostly demarcated by the Evros-Meric River.
The complaint GLAN submitted on 17 November 2020 to the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of Fady reveals a new aspect of this system of expulsions. Fady is a 25-year-old man from the Syrian city of Deir az-Zour. After ISIS took over the area, he fled to Germany, where he was recognised as a refugee in 2015. In November of 2016, he travelled with valid refugee documentation from Germany to Greece. The sole purpose of his trip was finding his unaccompanied 11-year-old child brother, who was fleeing ISIS recruitment. His brother was last seen after crossing the Evros River into Greece as part of his journey to seek asylum.
Fady travelled to Greece to locate his brother. On 30 November 2016, while searching in a bus station, Fady was singled out by police and questioned about his national origin. Despite his refugee status and residency permit in the EU, he was immediately apprehended after responding that he was Syrian. Greek authorities then took him to an unknown location, and stripped him of his documentation attesting to his status as a recognized refugee. Not long thereafter they deported him to Turkey, a country he did not come from. Fady found himself trapped in a clandestine and illegal deportation apparatus, for which it made no difference that he was legally present.
Over the course of the following year Fady made multiple attempts to re-enter Greece and regain his status as a recognized refugee. Stranded in Turkey and having had his documentation confiscated by the Greek police, Fady was forced to attempt crossing the Evros-Meriç River in order to hopefully continue his search for his child brother. He attempted 14 times to re-enter Greece: 13 times via the river and one time by sea. Each time, Fady was either summarily expelled by Greek or contained by Turkish authorities.
Fady does not know why Greek authorities initially abducted him. They refused to provide any reason. The long-standing practice of summary expulsions across the Evros-Meriç River suggests that it is due to xenophobic hostility to his Syrian national origin, Arab appearance and mother tongue.
In our complaint, we argue that the systematic pushbacks Fady was exposed to violate a number of Greece’s human rights obligations, including among others the right to life; the prohibition of torture and inuman and degrading treatment; and the right to dignity. The case breaks new grounds by arguing that Fady’s abduction amounts to an enforced disappearance, and that Greece has violated its obligations under the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED). A new legal framework is necessary to capture what is happening when the pushback policy is redirected towards legally present persons. The prohibition against enforced disappearances is the closest thing we have.
The legal submission made use of evidence in a report compiled by Forensic Architecture which reconstructed events with Fadi's testimony and input
Historically, obligations under ICPPED have been framed as safeguards against authoritarian regimes. Today, at the Southeastern border of the EU, border violence has indeed acquired a fundamentally authoritarian aspect, which calls for a clear pronouncement by the committee.
The Greek police, acting as authorized agents of the State, excluded Fady from the protection of the law by holding him in an unofficial detention centre without access to legal counsel or the outside world. In confiscating Fady’s documentation before expelling him from Greece, the Greek authorities deprived Fady of international protection for three years.
For a person whose own country has become a source of persecution rather than protection, the stripping of refugee status is analogous to the stripping of nationality. That Greek authorities later pushed him back so many times is evidence of an insistence to not even afford him the human rights that ought to be enjoyed to anyone located in Greek territory.
According to Itamar Mann, Legal Advisor with GLAN: “Historically, the prohibition of enforced disappearances emerged from contexts of authoritarian rule. Today, border violence at the Southeastern border of the EU has acquired a fundamentally authoritarian aspect. These enforced disappearances do not replicate previous historical precedents. But when expulsions are no longer directed only at the undocumentd but also towards the legally present, there are striking similarities. Enforced disappearances provide the closest concept within our legal vocabulary,”