Balkan Regional Report–August 2022

Summary and analysis of pushbacks and internal violence documented by BVMN during the month of AUGUST

In August, the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) shared 13 testimonies of pushbacks impacting 354 people-on-the-move (POM) across the Balkans and Greece. This report brings together first-hand testimonies from a range of countries in the region to look at the way European Union states and other actors are affecting systemic violence towards people crossing borders.

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PRESS RELEASE: INTERIM MEASURES GRANTED FOR 49 TURKISH AND SYRIAN ASYLUM SEEKERS ON A GREEK ISLET IN THE EVROS RIVER. GREECE YET TO COMPLY.

On the 16th August at 06.26 EEST, the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) was alerted to a group of Syrian and Turkish asylum seekers stranded on an islet in the Evros river close to Didymoteicho, in Greek territory. The Syrian nationals of the group stated that they were seeking asylum due to the war in their country which has placed them at risk of serious physical harm, and the Turkish nationals are from the Kurdish minority and therefore at risk of persecution in Turkey. They reported that they had been stuck on the islet since the 14th August 2022. The group includes nine women, 16 children and eight individuals who are particularly vulnerable and require medical attention. One is four months pregnant, two are asthmatic, one is diabetic and suffers from high blood pressure, another suffers from high blood pressure, two of the children are having difficulty breathing, and another child has a severe visual impairment. We immediately relayed this information to the competent authorities: the Hellenic Police, Frontex, the Ombudsperson, the National Human Rights Institution, and UNHCR. Our operatives on the ground called the emergency 112 line at 18.23 EEST on 16th August who assured us that they were aware of the group and a search and rescue (SAR) operation was underway. The following morning, on 17th August at 09.27 EEST the group again shared their live location which showed them on the islet, stating that nobody had approached the islet the previous evening or over the night.

 

Briefing for Policymakers: Illegal pushbacks from islets in the Evros River continue

At the start of July, BVMN published a report on the phenomenon of groups being stranded on islets in the Evros river border between Greece and Turkey, and the increasing frequency with which human rights groups are filing for interim measures at the ECtHR. In the report, we highlighted the shifting modus operandi of human rights violations at the Evros border and the concurrent criminalisation of those responding to them. Read alongside the recent investigation by Lighthouse Reports, LeMonde, Spiegel, the Guardian, and ARD76 which uncovered systematic exploitation of people-on-the-move, it is evident that the mass proliferation of human rights violations in Greece are contributing to an overall erosion of the rule of law.

The following briefing details political responses that followed the publication of the report, updates on the situation regarding pushbacks in the Evros region in the last month, and recommendations to the Greek government, European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX), and the European Commission.

 

Balkan Regional Report – June 2022

Summary and analysis of pushbacks and internal violence documented by BVMN during the month of JUNE

In June, the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) shared 14 testimonies of pushbacks impacting 676 people-on-the-move (POM) across the Balkans and Greece. This report brings together first-hand testimonies from a range of countries in the region to look at the way European Union states and other actors are affecting systemic violence towards people crossing borders.

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Islets, Interim Measures, and Illegal Pushbacks: Erosion of Rule of Law in Greece

 

This report documents the recent increase in use of Rule 39 measures on the Greek mainland, in order to secure access to international protection. It specifically details and analyses three case studies whereby transit groups were stranded on islets in the Evros river over the months of May and June 2022, and sent distress calls to state and civil society actors across Greece expressing their will to claim asylum. In all three cases, civil society organisations, including the Greek Council for Refugees, Human Rights360, AlarmPhone, and The Rule 39 Initiative submitted applications for interim measures on the behalf of the transit groups, and a Rule 39 decision was indicated by the European Court of Human Rights, legally binding the Greek state to provide temporary access to Greece and material reception conditions. Despite the Court’s rulings, as well as the extensive public documentation of the cases on social media platforms and in news outlets, all three transit groups were reportedly pushed back to Turkey after several days on the islets without food, water, or medical care.

In order to contextualise these events, the report briefly introduces a history of Evros islets in the context of pushbacks, the lack of access to asylum on mainland Greece and interim measures at the European Court on Human Rights. It subsequently discusses the ongoing responses and evolving consequences of the Greek state’s violations of the Court’s rulings, including by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Members of the European Parliament, the LIBE committee, the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum, and other actors in Greece. The report additionally observes the concerning trend of criminalisation of civil society organisations and the use of smear campaigns to restrict migrant rights defenders from operating. In the context of the cases documented here and the recent investigation by Lighthouse Reports we, the Border Violence Monitoring Network, call for Greece to be held accountable and for all operational and financial support to be suspended until the rule of law is restored.