The EU-Turkey statement of 18th of March 2016 gained lots of media attention. It was presented as a solution for the so-called “refugee crisis” with the goal to return “[a]ll new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 […] to Turkey”.
Three years after the statement, there is hardly any public interest in the situation for refugees and migrants affected by detention and deportation under the EU-Turkey statement. Deportations are implemented seemingly without any official monitoring body overlooking the situation for migrants before, during and after their return. Although Frontex has a human rights unit involved in the deportation process and the Greek ombudsman’s office is sometimes present on-site, several rights violations were reported through independent activists reporting for Deportation Monitoring Aegean.
Monitoring deportations is not a crime, in contrast, deporting severely sick people or people who are still in an on-going asylum procedure is in fact legally most problematic. Nevertheless, the independent monitoring structure is put under growing pressure. Independent activists who monitor deportations are frequently controlled by the police, have their personal data stored, are intimidated, or even arrested and beaten.
One of the most severe cases happened on October 4th, 2018. A person was arrested for nothing more than standing close to the police station of Mytilene. He reports:
“I was standing with some people outside the coffee bar, opposite the police station of Mytilene. Suddenly a policeman in motorbike clothes came and was shouting at us. It was Greek so I couldn‘t understand, but it seemed, that he told all people to leave, so I walked away. After a couple of meters I recognised the officer was still shouting after me, so I turned around and went to him to apologise that I misunderstood him and to ask for his request. He immediately pulled my hair, twisted my arm and apprehended me.”
In the police station, the person monitoring was pushed onto a couch, a police man yelled at him and insulted him in Greek and English. His hat was taken off him and used to slap him in the face and his legs were kicked.
The person monitoring was detained in the police station and was asked to testify. Since the accusation was obviously made up (the police man had testified that the activist monitoring tried to run to the deportation bus to stop the deportation) and the activists did not have a lawyer at the time, he refused to testify. The police forced him to give his address and personal data and kept him in the police station for eight hours. He was put in a prison cell together with three men whose deportation had been stopped last minute on the same day. Their deportation was cancelled with the help of lawyers who had been informed by the activists monitoring the deportation process. Only through this intervention was the will of the three migrants to issue a subsequent asylum application accepted. Instead of being deported, they were returned back to Moria dention center after some hours, while the activist was finally released at 8pm.
Later it was found that the police had pressed charges against the activist for insult and resistance against the police. There is still no court date for the incidence.
The criminalization of support structures has to stop immediately! Monitoring deportations is no more than basic human rights work in order to prevent illegal actions and report the violence imposed on people on behalf of the EU-Turkey statement.