Lorraine Leete, defender of the rights of migrants and refugees and coordinator of Legal Center Lasvos, denounces the treatment towards migrants who are abandoned at sea.
Over the last two years the Legal Centre Lesvos’ work documenting and advocating against pushbacks in the Aegean region has been at the forefront of advocacy efforts to stop push backs and hold those responsible to account. Two cases that the LCL brought to the European Court of Human Rights in representation of survivors of pushbacks are among the first on the subject to be communicated to Greece, passing the first procedural step in the European Court.
Decisions in these cases could set an important precedent for all of Europe. In parallel, the LCL has been providing legal aid to recently arrived asylum seekers, who are at imminent risk of pushbacks. This work is done in a climate where many actors do not intervene, given the risk of arrest and prosecution, because as denunciation of pushbacks increases, NGOs and solidarity actors across Greece are also facing increasing pressure, intimidation and criminalisation for their work. Officials of the Greek government and media platforms continue to tacitly accuse those who advocate against pushbacks of being involved in smuggling networks themselves.
Nevertheless, the efforts of organisations reporting on and advocating against these illegal pushbacks have undoubtedly contributed to a shift in public discourse: the director of the European Union’s Border Agency, FRONTEX, resigned earlier this year after reports revealed how FRONTEX actively covered up pushbacks of the Greek authorities; the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner has denounced Greece’s practice of pushbacks, and the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders denounced the escalation of criminalisation of actors involved in advocacy again pushbacks.
These statements mark an insufficient yet significant step in what necessarily must be a coordinated European wide effort to obtain accountability for and an end to the ongoing cruel and violent attack against migrants, inherent in maintaining Europe’s borders.