Illegal pushbacks should not happen in the EU, the chair of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee said after visiting Greece.
“Illegal pushbacks must not happen in the European Union, they have no place in the EU law,” Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar told reporters at a joint news conference with Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi, after the EU lawmakers’ visit to Greece.
A seven-member delegation of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee spent three days in Athens and the island of Samos to examine the situation of migrants and asylum-seekers on the ground.
The EU lawmakers hold talks with the Greek authorities, representatives of EU institutions and agencies, as well as NGOs and international organizations.
The visit came after reports about the dire conditions of asylum-seekers in Greek camps and systematic pushbacks violating EU and international humanitarian law.
Lopez Aguilar admitted that the issue of illegal pushbacks and human rights violations were raised at all of their meetings with stakeholders, and stressed that all allegations had to be investigated.
“EU member states have to protect the external borders with full respect of fundamental rights of those seeking for international protection in the European Union, and Greece does exactly that,” the Greek minister said.
Mitarachi also explained that three independent monitoring mechanisms were currently working in the country.
“Greece happens to have the most vulnerable external border,” Lopez Augilar said, accusing other EU member states of “turning a blind eye” on the migratory pressure Greece has faced over the past years.
He also said the visit of the EP delegation aimed at helping the entire bloc to do better in migration management and to ensure that EU law is respected.
The EU lawmaker also called for the European Commission to monitor better EU member states’ compliance with fundamental rights when they protect the bloc’s external borders.
“We strongly demand and request from FRONTEX to be at the height of its full compliance of the mandate, impeding fundamental rights,” Lopez Aguilar added, referring to the allegations that the European Border and Coast Guard Agency’s had been complicit in maritime pushback operations to drive away migrants attempting to enter the EU via Greek waters.
Last month, a joint investigation of leading European media outlets revealed that pushback operations by security forces had become systematic practices in violation of EU and international humanitarian law.
German weekly Der Spiegel also published videos on its website showing masked Greek officers intercepting and disabling refugee boats in the Aegean Sea, endangering the lives of vulnerable asylum seekers.