Deadly Greek deterrence policy-migrants hunted and thrown into the sea

Deadly Greek deterrence policy-migrants hunted and thrown into the sea

Deadly Greek deterrence policy-migrants hunted and thrown into the sea

Controlling the flow of migrants trying to apply for asylum in Europe is top of the agenda for governments across the European Union despite evidence that this is plays right into the hand of traffickers. A new investigation by the BBC published just days before World Refugee Day found that Europe’s strategy of prioritizing border control over sea rescue has taken a deadly turn. Over a three-year period, the Greek coastguard has caused the deaths of dozens of migrants including some who were simply thrown directly back into the sea.

The harrowing accounts make it clear: current E.U. migration policies are failing migrants by putting them at risk of not just exploitation, but also death.

Death as a deterrent for migrants seeking asylum

In recent years, European governments have pursued tough immigration policies designed to deter people from coming to their countries to live. In 2022, Human Rights Watch described the EU’s migration policy as “deterrence by drowning and dehydration”. And it seems the situation has only gotten worse since then. Every day people put their lives on the line, setting out to sea on unfit boats despite knowing how dangerous the journey will be because of a lack of safer options.

Government officials have justified these policies as necessary for fighting trafficking and disrupting the business model of human traffickers. But the opposite is true. These policies are driving exploitation. When people feel the need to leave their country, but have no safe way to do so, they are at much higher risk of exploitation. 

The Greek government already stands accused of forced returns, which is illegal under international law. But the investigation revealed that Greek authorities are not just pushing people back towards Turkey, where most have crossed from. They are actively hunting down migrants who arrive on the Greek shores and forcing them into unsafe boats, sometimes just dumping them directly into the sea.

One migrant from Cameroon described how the police came right after they docked, masked so he could only see their eyes. The police forced the migrants to board a Greek coastguard boat to be taken back out to sea.

Describing what happened next, he said:

“They started with the [other] Cameroonian. They threw (us) in the water. The Ivorian man said: ‘Save me, I don’t want to die’…eventually only his hand was above water, his body was below. Slowly his hand slipped under, and the water engulfed him.”

A Somali migrant caught by the Greek army on arrival and handed to the Greek coastguard said they zip-tied him and his fellow migrants’ hands behind their backs. Then, with their hands tied, they were thrown into the sea. The Somali migrant told interviewers, “They wanted me to die.” Amazingly he was able to survive by floating on his back until one of his hands came free and he managed to swim to shore. The other migrants thrown in with him were not so lucky.

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