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2022 - A Year of Exclusion

The year 2022 is history. However, the situation at the European external borders has remained the same for people fleeing - or in many cases has become worse. Reports of human rights violations such as pushbacks have increased in 2022, violence and death are now part of the daily routine, and Fortress Europe continues to expand.





For a long time, it looked as if migration flows to Europe would decrease. While more than one million people entered the EU via Greece during the so-called “crisis years” of 2015 and 2016, the number shrunk to approximately 100,000 in 2018 and 2019, and decreased further to 10, 000 in 2021. Now, for the first time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the numbers of arrivals are rising again. In 2022, according to UNHCR, almost 20 000 people found their way to the EU via Greece, more than 12 000 of them by sea.


Of course, these statistics still do not compare to the hundreds of thousands who sought protection in Europe in 2015 and 2016. However, it is important to note that they do not necessarily represent the true number of people trying to reach the EU. Rather, the sharp decline of arrivals seem to be tied to reports of pushbacks, at sea but also on land, that have been mounting for years.


Nevertheless, particularly extraordinary things happened in 2022. Not only were almost 1,000 pushbacks recorded in the Aegean Sea alone by the NGO Aegean Boat Report (the highest figure in three years), but for the first time it was proven that the European border agency Frontex not only knew about it but actively covered up pushback operations.


Revelations cost Frontex chief his head


The report by the EU's anti-fraud agency OLAF, which was leaked in October, revealed that pushbacks were happening with the knowledge of Frontex. Moreover, the public discovered that critical voices were being muzzled internally and that internal human rights checkpoints were being actively circumvented (read more here).


Already in April, during the course of the investigations Frontex’ long-standing director Fabrice Leggeri had to resign, as mounting evidence against the agency surfaced. However, anyone who thinks that the situation at the European external borders has improved as a result of the reporting and uncovering of human rights violations is mistaken.


While border agency claims that the allegations in the 120-page report refer to practices of the past, a Human Rights Watch report from April 2022 proves otherwise. Additionally, the number of pushbacks reported by the Aegan Boat Report is clear evidence that the situation at sea has not changed at all: Since the publication of the OLAF report in October, the number of monthly pushbacks reported by the Norwegian organisation has remained roughly the same and has even increased since Leggeri's resignation in April. regardless of the Investigation.


Gross human rights violations at the external border


It was not only the increasing number of pushbacks that made it difficult for refugees to find their way into the EU via Greece in 2022. A number of blatant human rights violations became public, suggesting that people were being tortured, enslaved or even killed at the Turkish-Greek border.


Reports like that of Hassan Abdulkadir's martyrdom, which appeared in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" at the end of November, are no longer a rarity. After crossing the border on the Evros river, he and his brother Akram were picked up by unmarked Greek border guards, beaten up, imprisoned and finally sent back across the border river to Turkey. Akram lost his life while being in captivity of these men.


Unfortunately, he is far from the only person to die in this border region. Already in February, 12 people froze to death after a suspected pushback on the Evros river, and in April, a woman was shot fatally while trying to cross the river on a boat.


However, it was not only on land that border crossings increasingly turned deadly , but also in the Aegean sea. More than 20 people died within a single week in October, when two boat accidents occurred shortly after each other in Greek waters. Even though one of the boats had been on its way to Italy was on its way to Italy, like many others departing from Turkey, its driver had been forced to take a longer and more dangerous route to reach Europe due to increased pushbacks.


Border Fences and Deterrence


In addition to the pushbacks and the violence, Greece and the EU have even more trump cards in their hands to expand Fortress Europe. The border fence on the Evros is to be extended to up to 220 kilometres, making it impossible for refugees to reach European soil at all via the border in the north of the country. The declared goal of the Greek government is to completely seal off the land route against migrants and to secure all regions that can be crossed on foot.


Border fences cannot be erected in the Aegean Sea. Here, the Greek government still relies mainly on pushbacks. However, another absurd system of deterrence has been established here in recent years: Time and again, refugees who are forced by the smugglers to steer the boats across the sea are sentenced to prison terms upon arrival. Although the drivers are almost always refugees themselves, who have paid for the crossing as is usual, they are often charged by Greek authorities with human smuggling. For each person on the boat, the accused faces up to ten years in prison. As there are often often several dozen people are transported on the boats, people are sometimes sentenced to 150 years or more.


The exact number of refugees who are in Greek prisons or have been charged, is difficult to quantify. According to “Deutschlandfunk”, neither the Greek Ministry of Justice nor the Ministry of Migration was prepared to comment on this in May 2022. However, a "Spiegel" research from 2019 can give an indication. According to the magazine, more than 1900 people were imprisoned for smuggling at that time .


Europe Must Act


One thing is clear: in 2023, people will still want to come to Europe and exercise their right to protection from wars, crises and displacement. We have seen an increase in migratory movements to Europe in 2022 without even including the Ukraine conflict. The European Union must take its responsibility and create safe routes for refugees and enforce an immediate end to pushbacks and the expansion of Fortress Europe.


The primitive and inhumane deterrence through violence, terror, criminalisation and border fences must stop. Abolish Fortress Europe! Right to stay for all!




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