Greece facing lawsuit for pushback of more than 180 migrants

Greek NGO Legal Centre Lesvos (LCL) said Monday that it has filed a lawsuit against the Greek state at the European Court of Human Rights “for a massive [illegal] pushback operation of over 180 migrants caught in a storm near Crete.” The NGO will be representing 11 Syrian nationals who were part of the 180-200 people to be pushed back to Turkey in October.

According to evidence such as witness testimonies, GPS location services, media reports, photos and videos, the Greek authorities are alleged to have violently pushed a migrant boat that included at least 40 children and one pregnant woman in an effort lasting over 24 hours during a rough storm. The group on board a fishing boat navigating to Italy to seek asylum entered Greek territorial waters with a promise of being rescued following a storm. According to video footage, rather than rescue, the group was subjected to unanticipated violent attack, theft and threat of further violence by “commandos” on Greek police vessels. They were subsequently moved to two coast guard boats, where they were discovered abandoned without food, water or even lifeboats the next day.

According to allegations of the LCL, the Greek state is accused of infringing the following rights of 11 people under the European Convention of Human Rights: Article 2 (Right to life), Article 3 (Prohibition of torture), and Article 5 (Right to liberty and security). It is further alleged that their right to effective remedy and non-refoulment under Articles 3 and 13 have also been breached. Particular emphasis will be placed on the fact that they were attacked whilst in a state of distress.

This comes as the fifth in a series of legal actions against Greece by the LCL, who, together with other human rights groups monitoring the situation, point to a systemic problem started in March 2020 by the centre-right government of New Democracy under PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis who came into power in July 2019. This notion comes as a result of the failure of the Greek state to “explicitly prohibit collective expulsions” and to “provide adequate criminal remedy” to address such violations.