A loud and clear message to Greece: Protect people before your borders

By Giorgos Kosmopoulos Athens, Greece,

Many refugees and migrants have told Amnesty that they faced shocking treatment at the Greek border with Turkey. Today, over 94,000 activists are sending the minister in charge, Nikolaos Dendias, a “holiday postcard” (right) in protest.

By Amnesty’s Campaigner on Greece, Giorgos Kosmopoulos.

“Welcome to Greece” reads the postcard we are sending Nikolaos Dendias, the Greek Minister of Public Order and Citizen Protection, today. We’ll be protesting outside his office in Athens with a giant version, and also tweeting it to him and sharing it on Facebook.

Many people trying to enter Greece these days don’t get a very dignified reception. Instead, they face shocking treatment by police under Minister Dendias’ authority.

Our new research, published today, documents dozens of allegations that the Greek police is regularly sending refugees and migrants back to Turkey in so-called “push-back” operations. Many people told me they were kicked and beaten by the police and coastguard in the process.

“Push-backs” are not only illegal under EU and international law; they are also dangerous. Thousands of people are now trying increasingly risky routes into the EU. Hundreds have lost their lives searching for a new life in Europe, including many children.

Left at sea in a plastic boat
Greece: Frontier of hope and fear. Migrants pushed back at Europe’s border sets out in stark detail exactly what is happening. “They put us in a plastic boat and left us in the sea,” one young Afghan couple told me recently. The woman was six months pregnant at the time.

I’ve been at the frontline of “Fortress Europe” for about four years while working for Amnesty on refugee and migrants’ rights in Greece. I’ve heard the stories of many brave people and felt angry and ashamed at the way they are being treated. My visits to immigration detention centres still haunt me.

But I have also felt happy and hopeful. Happy that Amnesty, alongside other NGOs, lawyers and activists, has been able to help many people be released from detention or get better treatment. Sometimes we’ve done it by being loud, other times we’ve worked together quietly behind the scenes.

Thank you!
And I feel hopeful because so many people across Europe and beyond are coming together and joining our S.O.S. Europe campaign. A huge “thank you!” goes out to 94,196 people in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Switzerland, Turkey and the UK, who all stood up against injustice by signing our petition.

Today is a day to be loud and clear. Together, we are making sure that the shameful human rights violations taking place at the gates of Fortress Europe are no longer in the shadows. No one, especially the Greek government, can claim to be ignorant anymore of what is going on.

We can do better than this
Unfortunately, Minister Dendias refused our request to present him with all these signatures in person. But we won’t give up until he listens and starts to make changes. So instead, we are protesting in front of his office today to remind him to put people before borders. Many others will join in by sharing our postcard on Facebook and tweeting it at the minster.

The EU needs to shoulder its part of the responsibility. Right now, European leaders are discussing its asylum and migration strategy for the next five years. We can only hope that they will resolve to do better than this. We welcome the news that the European Commission has started discussing “push-back” allegations with Greece. Hopefully, this will lead to the country being formally referred to the European Court of Justice soon.

Meanwhile, I know that many refugees and migrants feel supported because Amnesty and others are witnessing and trying to stop the human rights abuses being committed against them. Kusha, an Iranian refugee and activist I know in Greece, recently told me what it means to him when Amnesty activists take to the streets: “Seeing all these people, most of whom I’ve never met before, engaging and taking action to help people they’ve never met before – that is where I get my strength.’’

Send the minister a postcard

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