Greece has a “secret site” on the border with Turkey to incarcerate and expel migrants arriving in a surge facilitated by Ankara, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
The Greek government denied the Times report, saying all frontier security was carried out according to the law.
Thousands of migrants have arrived at the Greek frontier since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on February 28 that Turkey would no longer stop them from trying to enter Europe.
“The extrajudicial center is one of several tactics Greece is using to prevent a repeat of the 2015 migration crisis,” the online Times report said.
Nearly a million refugees made it to Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, just off the Turkish coastline, in the 2015 exodus, and the majority moved on to mainland Europe.
The Greek PM must answer now: Is the NYT article accurate? Is there a detention centre in Greece where refugees are beaten, robbed and from which they are expelled back to Turkey without being granted their inalienable right to apply for asylum? https://t.co/Pmx2nSrpJy
— Yanis Varoufakis (@yanisvaroufakis) March 11, 2020
The Greek government dismissed the Times report, with the state spokesman insisting “there is nothing hidden.”
“If the New York Times knows about this, I don’t see how a detention camp like this can remain a secret,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters.
“There is no secret detention camp in Greece. All matters related to guarding the borders, or involving security, are transparent. The constitution, Greek law and European regulations are in force,” Petsas said.
The European Commission said it was incumbent on the Greek government to investigate the allegations.
A spokesman said the E.U. executive’s chief, Ursula von der Leyen, would raise the issue with Greek leaders in a visit to Athens on Thursday.
Locals Confirm Pushbacks
The Times said it had confirmed the existence of the site through reporting and forensic analysis of satellite imagery.
It also interviewed a Syrian man who claimed to have been taken to the site, near the border village of Poros.
AFP teams also present in the area at the time saw soldiers putting migrants onto military vehicles. Other unmarked vans were also picking up migrants wandering on the streets.
Asked last week about the fate of migrants caught after crossing the Evros river into Greece, the migration ministry declined to comment.
Greek locals and people who have spent time on the border have confirmed the practice.
“The army used to ask us to carry migrants across. Now they do it themselves,” a local man who declined to give his name told AFP.
The government over the weekend had also denied a claim by a migrant support group that a Pakistani man had been shot dead by Greek fire at the border.
“Our friend Muhammad (Gulzar) was shot on Wednesday, simply because he was a migrant,” the City Plaza support group said in a Facebook post.
“The shot came from a (gun) barrel on the Greek side,” it added.
“As regards deaths and injuries, we have categorically denied this, at least as regards the Greek side. And we will continue to do so,” Petsas said Wednesday.
“This is orchestrated Turkish propaganda and fake news. Imagine, if there had been victims, would you not have seen them?” he said.
In Brussels, a European Commission spokesman said: “We do expect the Greek authorities to investigate any allegation of illegal practices or violence.”
The spokesman, Adalbert Jahnz, would not be drawn on whether the alleged site and actions by the Greek authorities constituted a violation of E.U. and asylum laws.
Another commission spokesman, Eric Mamer, added that the E.U.’s response so far “does not preclude that if those contacts fail, other steps can be later taken.”