Activists filed a United Nations complaint for an Iranian asylum-seeker who alleged she was tortured and beaten during several detentions in Greece before being repeatedly deported to Turkey.
Parvin A., the asylum-seeker who now lives in Germany, alleged that not only did she suffer abuse, but she witnessed the beating of children and a pregnant woman during six detentions in Greece.
The asylum-seeker spoke in a pre-recorded video during an online news conference with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), which said it filed a complaint on her behalf with the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors implementation of the international covenant on civil and political rights by member states.
Hanaa Hakiki, a senior legal advisor at the ECCHR, told the news conference monitored in Athens that Parvin A. seeks recourse for arbitrary detention in "inhuman" conditions, mistreatment and summary expulsion from Greece.
The ECCHR, a Berlin-based lawyers' activist group, said she had managed to sneak out rare images and footage of alleged abuse on her cellphone ahead of three of her six deportations to Turkey.
"We have never seen such footage from inside border guard stations before," said Stefanos Levidis, a researcher at investigative site Forensic Architecture who spoke at the press conference.
Parvin A. said she had been "handcuffed, beaten, shot at, tear-gassed, tortured and nearly killed" during six expulsions from Greece to Turkey between February and June 2020.
She said she left Iran over alleged gender-based persecution, which would qualify her for asylum in European or other countries.
She alleged she also witnessed beatings of other asylum-seekers – including that of children and a pregnant woman – and was detained in dirty border station cells and an airless container.
Border guards had smashed the asylum-seekers' cellphones and seized their food and clothing, she alleged.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Greece have repeatedly decried the alleged mistreatment of migrants and refugees in camps and at the European Union country's borders, which Greece's government steadfastly denies.
"Death and torture at the borders of Europe have become an acceptable alternative to migration," Nils Muiznieks, Europe director of Amnesty International said Wednesday, noting that the present political climate in Europe was "more forgiving" to such rights violations.
Last year, Greece pushed some 889 boats carrying irregular migrants back into Turkish territorial waters, while 25,668 migrants were rescued by the Turkish Coast Guard Command.
Setting out to start a new life, the irregular migrants' journey of hope often ends in the blue waters of the Aegean or turns into a nightmare due to the inhumane practices of Greek coast guard units. Turkey and Greece have been key transit points for migrants aiming to cross into Europe, fleeing war and persecution to start new lives. Turkey has accused Greece of large-scale pushbacks and summary deportations while denying migrants access to asylum procedures, which is a violation of international law. Turkey has also accused the European Union of turning a blind eye to this blatant abuse of human rights.
Pushbacks are considered contrary to international refugee protection agreements, which dictate that people should not be expelled or returned to a country where their life and safety might be in danger due to their race, religion, nationality or membership in a social or political group.
The incident comes after the bodies of 12 migrants who froze to death were found near Turkey's border with Greece, the Turkish interior minister said Wednesday, accusing Greek border guards of pushing them back over the frontier.
The charges from Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu – dismissed as "utter nonsense" by Greece – threaten to escalate simmering tensions between the rival members of the NATO defense alliance.
Soylu posted blurred images on Twitter showing partially naked bodies lying by the roadside.
"Twelve of the 22 migrants pushed back by Greek border units" froze to death after being "stripped (of) their clothes and shoes," Soylu wrote in English.
The "EU is remediless, weak and void of humane feelings," he added.
Soylu said the pictures were taken near Turkey's western border town of Ipsala.
Greece's Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi did not dispute the 12 deaths but dismissed Turkey's version of events as "false propaganda."
But the European Union's Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson expressed alarm at Turkey's claim.
"I just received the information and I must say I'm a bit shocked," she told Agence France-Presse (AFP) by telephone while attending a meeting of the 27-nation bloc's interior ministers in France.
"We have the Greek minister here, I will raise it with him and ask for clarification on this. This needs to be investigated of course."
The International Organization for Migration said it was “horrified” by the reported deaths and that it would follow up the incident with the relevant authorities.
“Mounting reports of pushbacks against people on the move at some European borders and many parts of the world are extremely concerning and should be investigated and action taken,” said Safa Msehli, a spokesperson for the IOM.
“We reiterate that such practices are prohibited under international law and should not happen under any circumstances,” she said. "The obligation and primacy of saving lives and prioritizing the well-being and human rights of migrants are vital to the integrity of any border.”