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  • Hanna Bajwa

Greek-Turkish Border Crisis: The Result of a Failing European Asylum System


October 11, 2015: Lesbos Island, Greece - Migrants and Refugees reach the coast of Lesbos aboard a smuggler fishing boat after having crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey.

Tensions are rising between Turkey and Greece, after the Turkish interior minister accused Greek border guards of pushing back 22 migrants – 12 of which apparently froze to death. Greece, however, has labelled these accusations as ‘false propaganda’, claiming the migrants never reached the border, let alone were pushed back. After further investigation, the number of people found frozen to death rose to 19. This has sparked a ‘war of words’ between Turkey and Greece, who each blame the other for the tragedy, whilst hundreds of people in Istanbul marched to the Greek consulate to protest and around 700 protesters marched in front of the Greek Parliament.

Turkey and international human rights groups have frequently accused Greece of carrying out “pushbacks” of migrants seeking to cross the north-western land border or trying to reach Greece’s Aegean islands on inflatable dinghies – violating humanitarian values and international law. Despite not being a legal term, pushbacks are considered contrary to international refugee protection agreements, which dictate that people should not be expelled or returned to a country where their life and safety might be in danger due to their race, religion, nationality, or membership in a social or political group.

Turkey is the host to over four million refugees, most of whom are Syrians, but also including several hundred thousand Afghans. In 2020, Mr. Erdogan, the Turkish President, announced he was opening the borders for migrants to enter Europe, saying that Turkey could no longer handle the huge numbers of people fleeing regional wars, and accusing European leaders of failing to keep their promise to help Turkey take on the strain of the refugees. For its part, Greece says Turkey is not doing enough to prevent migrants from entering the EU and is violating the 2016 EU-Turkey deal, which saw the EU promise 6 billion euros in return for Turkey hosting asylum seekers and refugees on its territory.

For over a year now, along the Greek border with Turkey, much of which runs alongside the Evros river, Greece has been taking tougher measures to keep migrants out. Alongside building a fence and heavily policing the land border, Greek authorities have also towed migrants arriving by sea back into Turkish waters. A report in 2020 stated that Greek border guards have been forcing large numbers of migrants and refugees back to sea, at times shooting at their boats, with the complicity of the EU's border protection agency Frontex.

An international lawsuit of an Iranian woman called Parvin, who was pushed back from Greece six times, could prove fundamental in proving Greece’s perfidy when denying the claims of their treatment of migrants and asylum seekers. Parvin is now hoping she can hold Greece accountable for the treatment she says she suffered by citing Article 7 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which bans, among other things, torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.

This lawsuit is just the latest in a pile of lawsuits against Greece for summary expulsions, alongside 32 others that had been filed in 2021 with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Currently Greece is being prosecuted under the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, despite being one of the founding signatories. Even more concerning is that the over 200 cases of summary expulsion, including torture, rape, and robbery have been sent to 20 Greek prosecutors by the Greek Helsinki Monitor group over the past 3 years, yet none have resulted in prosecution.

What is next for Greece and Turkey? This is no longer a debate about who is right or wrong – it is an issue concerning human lives that we can only hope to see resolved soon. Greece must wait for the outcomes from the lawsuit, and based on Turkey’s previous lack of success in bringing Greece to justice, it is in the hands of the law and the European Union to determine what will happen next.

Image Source: Flickr (Jim Forest)



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