Greek independent authority rejects migrant pushback claims

Greece’s independent authority for transparency said Tuesday that after an in-depth investigation it has found no basis for reports that Greek authorities have illegally turned back asylum-seekers entering the country from Turkey.

The National Transparency Authority said in a statement that the allegations by the Lighthouse Reports non-profit organization last year concerning “informal obligatory returns” of asylum-seekers by masked men “were not confirmed.”

“Upon completion of the examination process and the laboratory examination of the relevant material, no supporting evidence emerged,” the statement said.

Greece is a major entry point for people from the Middle East, Asia and Africa seeking a better life in the European Union. A record of about 1 million people arrived through neighboring Turkey in 2015, but in recent years the numbers have dropped drastically following tougher border management.

Greece has repeatedly been accused by human rights groups and Turkey — its historic regional rival from which thousands of migrants try to enter every year — of illegally sending back asylum-seekers who have reached Greek shores and dumping them at sea. Similar claims have been made concerning asylum-seekers who cross the land border with Turkey and are allegedly clandestinely sent back. Athens strongly denies the practice, known as pushbacks.

The NTA statement said its more than four-month investigation into the Lighthouse Reports’ allegations included visits to the eastern Aegean Sea islands where migrant boats from Turkey arrive and to the northeastern land border, and interviews with Greek security services, local residents and asylum-seekers. It said it also examined video and photos connected with the allegations, with the assistance of the Greek police.

Last October, Netherlands-based Lighthouse Reports said a joint investigation with European media organizations collected and analyzed 635 videos of alleged pushbacks in the Aegean Sea, “at least 15 of them showing masked men in action.”

It said current and former senior officers in the Greek coast guard reviewed the videos and “were able to identify the masked men as members of elite Greek coast guard units.”

Greek officials at the time denied the allegations.

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