The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, criticized European countries for their treatment of migrants as he called on multiple countries to defend the principles of the Geneva Refugee Convention.
On the 70th anniversary of the signing of the convention on Wednesday, Grandi said that he was alarmed because European and other countries are increasingly trying to evade their obligations. The document signed on July 28, 1951, is the cornerstone of asylum systems worldwide. Signatories must grant protection to people who ask for it if they face persecution in their home countries. Asylum seekers must not be sent back to where they face persecution.
"Thanks to the convention, millions of lives have been saved," Grandi said.
Grandi did not name any particular country, but he condemned the Greek coastguard for pushing refugee boats back toward Turkey. Pushbacks are considered contrary to international refugee protection agreements, which say 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.
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 also accused Greece of large-scale pushbacks and summary deportations without migrants being given access to asylum procedures, which is a violation of international law. It also accuses the European Union of turning a blind eye to this blatant abuse of human rights.
Amnesty International said last month that illegal pushbacks of refugees and migrants to Turkey had become Greece's "de facto" border policy The Greek government has repeatedly denied the accusations.
Between January 2020 and March 2021, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) documented around 300 reported incidents of illegal expulsions around the Aegean islands and Greece's northeastern Evros land border with Turkey. Several migrant support groups, including the Greek Helsinki Monitor, in May filed a complaint with the European Court of Justice against Frontex, the EU's border monitoring agency.
A joint investigation by several international news outlets reported in October 2020 that Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, had been complicit in maritime pushback operations to drive away migrants attempting to enter the EU via Greek waters. A month later, Brussels-based news outlet EUobserver revealed that Frontex exchanged letters with Greek authorities about Athens' orders to push back migrants to Turkish waters.
He also criticized plans in Britain and Denmark, for example, to send asylum seekers to third countries to have their claims examined there. Grandi's agency, the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), monitors compliance with the convention and looks after refugees worldwide.
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