Dark unpleasantness

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

The timing was quite unpleasant. Days after Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis had to face before the European Parliament strong criticism over the treatment of migrants seeking asylum at Greek borders in the hands of the authorities (especially concerning push-backs at sea, but also crossings of Evros river), the European Court of Human Rights found Greece guilty of tolerating the sinking of a boat full of migrants leading to the drowning of 11 refugees (among them 8 children). Once this has happened, a further dozen who had survived “had been subjected to degrading treatment on account of body searches they had undergone” on arriving at land.

The facts of the “Safi et al. v. Greece” case, also known as the Farmakonisi incident, goes back to 2014 – when Greece was ruled by the Rightwing/Centre Right coalition, under which the Coast Guard had the blessing of the Government in carrying out push-backs and treating harshly survivors of the perilous crossing. In a later case of 2016 (so under Left-Socialist Government) migrant minors were held in custody in conditions that amounted to “degrading treatment” and “deprivation of liberty” (Sh. D. et al. v. Greece). Back to then, when the matter caused outrage throughout the human rights community Greek authorities initiated investigations to shed light, but the ECHR concluded that such investigation “was not carried out in a thorough and effective manner” – stopping short of calling it perfunctory.

The unpleasantness of the situation does not stop there. Just recently the ECHR had to grant interim measures for a number of Syrians – including minors with health problems and young mothers with babies – to be rescued when found stranded without food or water on an Evros islet. Here, too, push-backs/refoulement seem to have occurred. Such cases were brought more than once before the European Parliament.

A further – darker – dimension arises with the accusation leveled that – as of late – illegal immigrants were enlisted so as to effect push-backs of groups of their own in border areas, in exchange for their own stay for some more months in Greece. Such a practice, that would remind one of the darkest moments of European history, has not yet come under the scrutiny of the authorities.

To add insult in injury, Turkey – a country not known for human rights sensitivities and a major force in assisting and/or initiating immigrant crossings towards Greece – has made it a standard accusation against Greece in the Court of International public opinion that the latter was resorting to such human rights violations

So, it is a matter of deeper puzzlement how present-day Greek authorities – up to Prime Minister level… – remain publicly in denial of such incidents, resorting instead to shallow referencies to “NGO-originating accusations” or even rumours. The European Court of Human Rights is no NGO; nor is the European Parliament or the Council of Europe. So, some awakening of Greek officialdom is urgently needed – lest a country already under pressure from refugee/migrant flows, with little actual help from its European partners on this front, becomes once more a black sheep in the court of global public opinion.

Such would be a dangerously dark form of unpleasantness…