Greek government under pressure over ‘migrant pushback’ video ahead of election

ATHENS – Greece’s government came under pressure over its migration policies on Friday after video footage emerged allegedly showing Greek coastguards expelling migrants by setting them adrift in the Aegean Sea.

The footage, published by the New York Times, has sparked calls by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for an independent probe.

It also comes two days before a general election in which conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is facing a challenge from leftist former premier Alexis Tsipras.

A tough stance against immigration is a key plank of Mr Mitsotakis’s election platform. Earlier in the campaign, the prime minister travelled to the land border with Turkey where he vowed to extend a five-metre-high steel fence to contain the inward migration flow.

The footage in question was shot by a human rights activist on Lesbos last month.

In it, a group of asylum seekers including a baby, are driven in an white van to a “small cove spot with a wooden dock at the southern tip” of the island where they are taken out to the Aegean waters on a speedboat.

The migrants are then put on “a black inflatable life raft and set adrift”, the New York Times wrote, adding that about an hour or so later, Turkish coast guard boats arrived to rescue them.

The report added that this was the April 11 rescue of “12 irregular migrants on the lifeboat that was pushed back to Turkish territorial waters by Greek assets”, which Turkish coast guards had documented in a statement.

The New York Times said it had tracked down the migrants at Izmir detention facility where they recounted their ordeal.

Contacted by AFP, Greece’s migration ministry declined comment.

But the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has described the footage as “disturbing” and calling for an investigation and closer monitoring of the border area.

“Everyone has the right to be protected from such treatment,” said Ms Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the commissioner. “An independent, effective investigation is crucial.”

“We remain seriously concerned about continued and systematic pushbacks at the Greece-Turkey border, which violate the prohibition of collective expulsions and the principle of non-refoulement,” she added.

The commissioner backed “establishing an independent and effective border monitoring mechanism that would investigate allegations of violence at borders in collaboration with civil society”, she said. AFP

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