Since coming to power in 2019, the conservative Greek government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has toughened already strict migration and asylum laws.

Ingeborg Beugel works as a correspondent for Dutch weekly De Groene Amsterdammer.
Ingeborg Beugel works as a correspondent for Dutch weekly De Groene Amsterdammer. (Facebook/ingeborg.beugel)

Ingeborg Beugel, a Dutch journalist, faces a year in prison and a $6,000 fine in Greece after police arrested her for sheltering a young Afghan asylum seeker. 

A correspondent for Dutch weekly De Groene Amsterdammer, Beugel was arrested on June 13 on the island of Hydra where she has lived on and off for the past 40 years. She then was taken handcuffed to court under a law designed to discourage assistance to Albanians who came to Greece illegally at the time.

However, after having alerted the Dutch embassy in Athens, she was soon released and her court case was postponed to October

She had been trying to help a 23-year-old Afghan refugee named Fridoon, who was picked up by police the day she was detained. 

"The clause in the law is about hiding undocumented migrants. I have never hidden that Fridoon lives with me," Beugel told De Groene Amsterdammer, which reported on her story.

She added that Fridoon only became "illegal involuntarily" as the Greek Asylum Service was closed for months due to the pandemic and he was unable to meet specific deadlines.

Fridoon arrived in Lesbos island in 2015 after feeling Kabul but, Beugel said, his asylum applications were repeatedly rejected by the Greek authorities. 

"He has had two asylum applications rejected because in July 2017 when he had to tell his story to the Greek Asylum Service, he got a translator who wrote his story wrong in Greek. It took years to correct that wrongdoing, and he is now entitled to another attempt", she said. 

Migrants on a dinghy are rescued by the
Migrants on a dinghy are rescued by the "Save the Children" NGO crew June 17, 2017. (Reuters)

Illegal pushbacks: "de facto" policy 

Since coming to power in 2019, the conservative Greek government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has toughened already strict migration and asylum laws.

For the Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi, a tougher approach to migrants is necessary,  as he said  "we don't send the wrong message of incentivizing people to come" to Greece. 

Amnesty International has accused Greek authorities of the "torture, ill-treatment and illegal pushbacks" of refugees and migrants to Turkey, arguing that the practice has become a "de facto" border policy.

In a new report, the rights group described 21 incidents it said had involved around 1,000 people.

"It is clear that multiple arms of the Greek authorities are closely coordinating to brutally apprehend and detain people who are seeking safety in Greece" Adriana Tidona, migration researcher for Europe at Amnesty, said in the report.

"The level of organisation needed to execute these returns, which affected up to 1,000 people in the incidents we documented ... shows just how far Greece is going to illegally return people and cover it up," the researcher Tidona said. 

Greece has consistently denied it practises illegal pushbacks on either land or sea. Athens has routinely dismissed the testimonies as "fake news" spread by Turkey.

Migrants most of them, wearing face masks against the spread of the new coronavirus, gather outside the temporary refugee camp in Kara Tepe as they wait to depart from Lesbos for mainland Greece, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020.
Migrants most of them, wearing face masks against the spread of the new coronavirus, gather outside the temporary refugee camp in Kara Tepe as they wait to depart from Lesbos for mainland Greece, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. (AP)

"Policy-driven humanitarian crisis"

Back in mainland Greece, migrants and refugees aren't safer than those have been brutalised by the Greek forces at sea. 

The concrete-fenced walled up camps which set up away from city centres and locals, feel like prisons for many asylum-seekers. 

"Before, we were in an invisible jail. Now it (is) a visible jail," said Liban, who fled Somalia in 2018 when drought and ongoing conflict left half the population without food, water or shelter. He asked that his full name not be used because his asylum application was pending.

In addition to fencing off camps, Greece launched an EU-wide tender in June to build two closed-type facilities on the islands of Samos and Lesbos. 

Athens claims the measures will make camps safer but aid groups say containment policies hurt people already traumatized by war and conflict. The Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner has urged Greece to reconsider.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said a "policy-driven humanitarian crisis" was unfolding on the Greek islands near Turkey, where it treated more than 1,300 people, a third of them children, for mental health issues.

"This obsession with deterrence and the obsession of control and at the same time, zero investment in integration, is only causing pain and nothing else," MSF's Greece director Christina Psarra said.

For Amir, a 17-year-old Afghan who has learned Greek since he arrived 18 months ago and wants to become a doctor, the price feels high.

"We feel we have been separated with the walls they have built," he said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies