Asylum seekers are being detained, sexually assaulted, robbed, assaulted and stripped before being forced back to Turkey by Greek security forces and unidentified armed groups, Human Rights Watch said in a report Tuesday.
Greece’s decision to suspend for one month access for asylum seekers should be immediately reversed, said the report.
Nadia Hardman, a researcher and advocate for the Refugee Rights Program at Human Rights said the “The European Union is hiding behind a shield of Greek security force abuse instead of helping Greece protect asylum seekers and relocate them safely throughout the EU.
“The EU should protect people in need rather than support forces who beat, rob, strip, and dump asylum seekers and migrants back across the river.”
Hardman said research conducted by her group details terrible violence, abuse and sexual assault by Greek security forces.
In 21 interviews -- 17 men and four women in Turkey -- conducted between March 7 - 9 by the group, asylum seekers said they tried to enter Greece via its land border with Turkey with the help of Turkish police who transported them to the borders and showed them where to cross.
Thousands of asylum seekers, however, had to face Greek police, army and special forces who fired tear gas and rubber bullets at anyone approaching the Pazarkule border gate, the report said.
“All those interviewed said that within hours after they crossed in boats or waded through the river, armed men wearing various law enforcement uniforms or in civilian clothes, including all in black with balaclavas, intercepted everyone in their group. They detained them in official or informal detention centers, or on the roadside, and stole their money, mobile phones, and bags before summarily pushing them back to Turkey” according to the report.
Some even tried to again cross but each time were forcibly returned. In some cases asylum seekers endured not only physical but psychological abuse.
“They searched my wife and touched her breasts. They tried to take off her headscarf and her trousers. When I tried to stop them, they beat me really badly with their fists, feet, a heavy plastic rod and a metal stick. They hit my 2-year-old daughter with a heavy plastic stick on the head so that she still has a bruise,” a 31-year-old Syrian with his family told Human Rights Watch.
“Then they gave my wife an electric shock on her wrist and shoulder and one of the men pointed a gun at my head … they took our phones money and passports” he added.
Others described incidents where they were stripped to their underwear, including women, and forced back across the border.
Many of those escaping back to Turkey found refuge in the nearest Turkish village.
“We offered them food and drink and clothes. What else could we do?” a male resident from a nearby village told the rights group.
Human Rights urged Greece, the European Union and Turkey to take urgent steps to address abuses at the border./aa