UNHCR: Statement about report on push-backs from Greece to Turkey

12 November 2013

With reference to the report issued on November 7th 2013 by the German NGO Pro-Asyl, titled “Pushed Back – Systematic human rights violations against Refugees in the Aegean Sea and the Greek-Turkish land border”, the UNHCR Regional Representative for Southern Europe, Mr. Laurens Jolles, stated the following:

UNHCR is concerned over reports of asylum seekers and migrants being forcibly returned (“push-back”) from Greece to Turkey, as published by the German NGO ‘Pro Asyl’. The numbers and scale of the alleged incidents, which reportedly also involve persons fleeing Syria, raise serious concerns.
UNHCR stresses the vital importance of permitting people to access territory to seek international protection. If practices to prevent this, which could put asylum seekers at risk, are taking place they should cease immediately.
UNHCR is calling for a global return moratorium for Syrians refugees to Syria and countries in the region. Such a return moratorium demonstrates respect and appreciation for the contributions and offers made by States and host communities in the region. This is a concrete gesture of solidarity with these countries that currently host hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.
Turkey is currently hosting one of the largest numbers of Syrians, with over 500,000 registered refugees. Neighbouring countries are bearing the brunt of the largest humanitarian crisis in recent history and need support from the international community. Returning Syrian refugees to Turkey or other neighbouring countries only adds to the challenges faced by these governments and local communities to support and provide assistance to refugees.
Accusations of ill treatment upon or shortly after apprehension, as well as reports of practices which place lives at risk, demand an exhaustive investigation, clarification and a prompt response from Greek authorities.
Some of the patterns and methods of these incidents are similar to reports of such informal returns received also by UNHCR. In 2013 several allegations of such “push-backs” by land and, increasingly, by sea, have come to UNHCR’s attention through testimonies received by new arrivals during their second or subsequent attempt to reach Greek territory.
UNHCR is documenting information it receives and is bringing this to the attention of the appropriate authorities. Greek authorities, up to now, respond that such push-back practices would run counter to applicable national or international law, and that such practices do not occur.