Greece, Turkey spar on Twitter after 92 refugees found stripped | News

Athens, Greece – After 92 asylum seekers were found naked on the Greek side of the Evros River on Friday, Athens and Ankara are once again trading accusations of ill-treatment of refugees, taking their fight public on Twitter.

The river forms part of the border between the two countries, and the asylum seekers, all men, are mostly from Afghanistan and Syria. Some have roots in Iran, Morocco, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Greek police and European border guards from the EU border agency Frontex found them on the riverbank on the morning of October 14, “abandoned, completely naked and completely unequipped,” a Greek police statement said.

The men were held at the Feres police station, five kilometers (three miles) from the border, for three nights before being transferred to the First Reception Center in Fylakio for registration and asylum processing.

Greek army and police guard the border gate in the village of Kastanies as migrants try to enter Greece from the border gate in Pazarkule, Edirne, Turkey, on the Greek-Turkish border. [File: Giannis Papanikos/AP Photo]

Greek police say the men told them Turkish authorities took them to the border in official vehicles, before loading them into rubber boats and telling them to cross.

“We were told that it took 24 hours for the Turkish military police to gather everyone to the riverbank, which was apparently an ordeal because people had no food or water at the time, and then, after stripping them naked, they pressured them to cross. ”, Manos Logothetis, head of the First Reception Service of Greece, to Al Jazeera.

Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi tweeted: “I have requested and will see the President of the UN General Assembly in New York, have informed the Commission and will show photos and videos.

“[Turkey’s] the behavior towards 92 immigrants that we rescue today at the borders is a disgrace to civilization,” he said. “We hope that Ankara will investigate the incident and finally secure its borders with the EU.”

Turkey has a 2016 agreement with the EU to hold back refugees trying to cross into Europe.

Turkey’s presidential office said Mitarakis “is once again engaging in perception management tactics by using photos of nude migrants for which no location or date is provided.”

In a post in Greek, Turkish government spokesman Fahrettin Altun wrote on Twitter: “We warn Greece to stop its harsh treatment of refugees as soon as possible, to stop its baseless and false accusations against [Turkey]and to surrender the dignity of government.”

Turkey also published a long statement on its official website accusing Greece of regularly abusing refugees, posting photos it claimed were evidence.

The Greek Migration Ministry told Al Jazeera that evidence of the recent event cannot be made public because it is part of a legal file at the Ministry of Citizen Protection.

The UN issued a statement saying it was “deeply distressed…by such cruel and degrading treatment” and called for an investigation.

A troubled border

Greece and Turkey have been in a full-fledged information war over who is mistreating refugees since March 2020.

That’s when Turkey said it was unilaterally abandoning its 2016 treaty obligation to detain or readmit asylum seekers, accusing the EU of failing to meet its own obligations under the treaty.

Turkey encouraged asylum seekers to storm the Greek border, transporting many to eastern Thrace at state expense. Since then, Greece has built a steel fence along 12 km (7.4 miles) of its land border with Turkey, announcing that it will extend it along the 140 km (87 miles) length.

The EU has also spent millions of euros installing experimental surveillance systems along that border.

It is not clear why, if the 92 men met over a 24-hour period, the incident caught Greek authorities by surprise.

Turkey routinely accuses Greece of pushing refugees back without processing their asylum claims, which is illegal under the 1951 Geneva Convention. And Greece routinely accuses Turkey of pushing refugees to blackmail Europe into more money to take care of them

Apostolos Veizis, director of Intersos Hellas, an NGO dealing with refugee children, points out that the 92 men landed in Greece on a particularly humiliating day for Greece and the EU.

On October 14, OLAF, the European anti-fraud authority, published a report in which it found people at Frontex, the European border and coast guard, complicit in the Greek pushbacks.

Frontex responded that it had taken corrective action, but did not refute the allegations.

Refugees and migrants wait to be transferred to camps on the mainland after their arrival from the island of Lesbos in Greece.
Refugees and migrants wait to be transferred to camps on the mainland after their arrival on a passenger ferry from the island of Lesbos to the port of Lavrio, Greece. [File: Costas Baltas/Reuters]

Stripping refugees naked or requiring them to remove some of their clothing has previously been used as an intimidation tactic.

Al Jazeera this year reported the story of Parvin, an Iranian psychologist who tried to enter Greece six times. She testified that police in the Evros area took her jacket from her, and the men pushed back to Turkey with her were left wearing T-shirts in near-freezing weather.

The NGO Human Rights Watch says Bulgarian officials have stripped asylum seekers naked before sending them back to Turkey.

Getting naked has also been used as a form of national disparagement.

Last February, Greece rejected Turkish accusations that its border guards stripped naked and summarily expelled 12 asylum seekers who later died of exposure in Turkey near the Greek borders. Turkey has also accused Bulgaria of similar tactics.

A police officer patrols the Evros river delta in a boat, near Alexandroupoli, Greece.
In this file image, a police officer patrols the Evros river delta in a boat, near Alexandroupoli, along the border between Greece and Turkey. The Greek state has deployed an anti-migration arsenal that includes cameras, radar and a 40-kilometre (25-mile) steel fence over five meters high. [File: Sakis Mitrolidis/AFP]

Greek officials claim that Turkey carefully planned the latest incident.

“Nothing leaves Turkish soil without the knowledge of the authorities,” Deputy Education Minister Angelos Syrigos said.

Lieutenant General Andreas Iliopoulos, who. in 2015, headed the Supreme Military Command for the Interior and Islands (ASDEN), which is in charge of the National Guard in the Aegean, said the “instrumentalization of refugees” continues, blaming Turkey.

“Psychological operations are part of this and their ultimate recipients are the EU, the UN and NATO,” Iliopoulos told Al Jazeera.

“The message is that, whatever we do, Turkey will always be one step ahead…Greece and the EU cannot avoid these moves. Not even the [border] fence can, because when people land on this side of Evros they are still on Greek soil, and Greece and the EU are responsible for whatever happens to them,” he said.

Veizis believes the latest incident is part of a publicity campaign to smear Greece, but that few people care.

“Once the EU handed Greece the job of being a European shield, and we accepted, they washed their hands of it,” Veizis said. “It has become more of a Greek-Turkish ping-pong.

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