The Irish Times view on the EU’s response to refugees

Human rights groups complain thousands have been pushed back from the EU’s borders

A migrant at Karatepe refugee camp, on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, in late November 2021. Photograph: Panagiotis Balaskas/AP Photo

For some years Greek officials have denied forcibly and illegally pushing back refugees on their border or from their seas into Turkey. It dismissed such allegations as Turkish propaganda, and Greece's fellow EU member states didn't ask too many questions. Now, however, the credibility of such denials has been called into doubt.

In September an EU interpreter employed by its border agency Frontex was mistaken by police for an asylum seeker and taken off a bus heading for Thessaloniki. He says that he and several migrants arrested at the same time were stripped, searched and beaten, their possessions stolen. They were taken to a remote warehouse where, with at least 100 others, including women and children, they were put on dinghies and pushed across the Evros River into Turkish territory.

The interpreter, an Afghan who has lived legally for some years in Italy, was forced to seek its consular assistance in Ankara to return to Italy. EU officials say that his complaint – details of which emerged recently – is seen as highly credible because of his position and the audio and video evidence he provided. Greece denies his story.

The picture he paints gives compelling weight to complaints by many refugees and human rights groups who say that thousands have been pushed back by EU states over recent years. An analysis carried out by the Guardian newspaper earlier this year referenced evidence of up to 40,000 pushbacks and the deaths of over 2,000 migrants, mostly at sea, during the pandemic. The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) says nearly 18,000 migrants have been pushed back by Croatia in that time. Poland is also reported to have been engaged in similar tactics on its border with Belarus.


Under Greek and EU laws, the Greek authorities are required to assess asylum requests for all who seek protection, to house asylum seekers in humane conditions and, if they are rejected, to repatriate them safely. Greece protects its and the EU’s borders in our name. The maltreatment is in our name too – it must be halted.