The lawsuit at the European Court of Human Rights says Athens carried out a violent and massive coordinated operation against 200 people stranded on a boat.

Instead of helping 200 refugees last October, the Greek authorities attacked and aggressively pushed them back towards Turkey, says a lawsuit filed at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Legal Centre Lesvos (LCL), the Greek NGO behind the legal fight, says the incident highlights how Greek officials use the “collective expulsion” of refugees as part of a systematic practice implemented by Athens to deal with the migrant issue. 

The case has been filed on behalf of 11 Syrians. Alarm Phone, another NGO, which provides an SOS hotline to migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea, has collected more evidence to back their claim. 

Supported by survivor testimonies, GPS data, photos, and videos, lawyers say the incident was “one of the biggest pushbacks in the Aegean”. 

The lawsuit says that men wearing balaclavas in Hellenic Coast Guard vessels arrived at the location where the refugees had been waiting for over five hours to be rescued. Instead, the guards, who wore balaclavas took away their belongings, beat them up and pushed them towards the Turkish coast. 

They were left with no food, water, or assistance. The guards also threatened refugees with a warning that further violence would follow should they attempt to enter Greek territorial waters again. 

Collective expulsion

This is not the first time Athens has faced accusations of migrant mistreatment - most of whom are trying to flee war, extreme poverty, or persecution in their home countries. 

In March last year, Ankara announced that it will no longer stop refugees who want to leave Turkey given that the country refused to be Europe’s gatekeeper amid a lack of cooperation from its European neighbours. 

Following that decision, thousands of refugees flooded the Turkish coast to try and cross into Greece, the most popular migration route into Europe.

What came next were repeated reports of Greek pushbacks. This involved the coastguard deliberately forcing rubber boats - often filled with too many people - back into the open sea, something that lawyers say is illegal under international conventions. 

Greek border police have reportedly fired plastic bullets, tear gas, sound bombs and even used water cannons to discourage the landing of the refugees, which include many children. Journalists who have tried to highlight the brutality of the coast guards have also been manhandled. 

Both the European Union and the United Nations have repeatedly condemned the attacks in the past.

Reports of illegal pushbacks are not isolated events and instead form part of an ongoing systematic and widespread practice, LCL says. 

The most recent lawsuit constitutes the group’s fifth such legal action against Greece.

“In each case, migrants who had arrived to Greece with the intention to seek asylum, were instead met with violence, humiliation, and torture at the hands of Greek authorities, eventually being abandoned at sea without means to stay safe or to call for rescue,” it said. 

“Greece is one of the few European countries that has not explicitly prohibited collective expulsions, and Greece’s legal system does not provide adequate criminal remedy to redress the gravity of the international and human rights law violations entailed in collective expulsions…” the NGO said.

Greece denies the accusation and has shown no interest in investigating these alleged crimes. This leaves victims no choice but to seek justice from the European Court of Human Rights where a case can go on for years. 

Source: TRT World