Greece’s independent transparency body said on Tuesday that after a thorough investigation, it found no basis for reports that Greek authorities are illegally returning asylum seekers entering the country from Turkey.
The National Transparency Authority said in a statement that claims by the nonprofit Lighthouse Reports last year regarding the “unofficial mandatory return” of masked asylum seekers “have not been substantiated.”
“Upon completion of the examination process and laboratory examination of the relevant material, no supporting evidence was identified,” the statement said.
Greece is an important entry point for people from the Middle East, Asia and Africa seeking a better life in the European Union. In 2015, a record number of people arrived via neighboring Turkey – about 1 million people, but in recent years the number has fallen sharply due to tightened border controls.
Human rights groups have repeatedly accused Greece and Turkey – its historic regional rival from which thousands of migrants try to escape each year – of illegally returning asylum seekers who have reached Greek shores and pushing them back to the coast of Turkey. Similar allegations have been made about asylum seekers who cross the land border with Turkey and are allegedly smuggled back. Athens categorically denies the practice known as repulsion.
The NTA said in a statement that its more than four-month investigation into Lighthouse Reports’ allegations included visiting the eastern Aegean islands, where Turkish migrant boats arrive, and the northeastern land border, as well as interviews with Greek security services, local residents and asylum seekers. . The statement said that the authors of the report also examined videos and photographs related to the allegations of opposition to the Greek police.
Last October, the Dutch NGO Lighthouse Reports said that a joint investigation with European media had collected and analyzed 635 videos of alleged clashes in the Aegean, “at least 15 of them showing the actions of masked men.”
It states that current and former senior officers of the Hellenic Coast Guard viewed the video and “were able to identify the masked men as members of the elite units of the Hellenic Coast Guard.”
Greek officials at the time denied the allegations.