Written question to the European Commission

On 17 August 2020, the New York Times published an article entitled ‘Taking Hard Line, Greece Turns Back Migrants by Abandoning Them at Sea’. It documents how migrants landing on Greek soil have been forced onto precarious life rafts by the Greek authorities on multiple occasions and dropped at the Turkish-Greek maritime border, leaving them to drift until they are rescued by the Turkish authorities. Others have been towed back to the Turkish maritime border and abandoned after the authorities disabled their engines, left on an uninhabited island or expelled across the Evros River without legal recourse.

Is the Commission aware of these events and can it confirm that they are taking place?

Given the reliability of the newspaper, we believe that the Greek authorities are engaging in unprecedented, extremely aggressive and systematic push-backs, and are thus contravening European Union law, namely Article 78(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Articles 3 and 4 of the EU Schengen Borders Code, Article 9 of the Asylum Procedures Directive, Article 5 of the Return Directive, Articles 18, 19(2) and 24 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and the 1951 Refugee Convention. Asylum and migration are a shared EU responsibility. Is the Commission therefore considering opening an infringement procedure against the Greek Government?

Answer given by Commissioner Johansson on behalf of the European Commission

The Commission is following the situation closely and has taken note of reports such as those cited by the Honourable Members.

The Commission has raised concerns over such reports with the Hellenic authorities and underlined Member States’ responsibility to perform duties of border surveillance under the regulation (EU) 2016/399 on the Schengen Borders Code in full compliance with obligations related to fundamental rights, access to international protection and the principle of non-refoulement under Union and international law.

Without prejudice to the Commission’s powers as guardian of the Treaties, national authorities are primarily responsible for implementing and applying correctly EC law. Therefore, the Commission has urged the Hellenic authorities to investigate any alleged misconduct.

With the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, in particular the proposal for a regulation introducing a screening of third-country nationals at the external borders, the Commission has proposed that Member States establish an independent monitoring mechanism with the support of the Fundamental Rights Agency.

Such a monitoring mechanism would ensure compliance with EU and international law, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights, during the screening and that allegations of non-respect for fundamental rights, including in relation to access to the asylum procedure and non-compliance with the principle of non-refoulement, are dealt with effectively and without undue delay.

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