A French woman is accused of pushing back against Greece from a Turkish prison
BARCELONA (Spanish) -- Friday's arrest of a French woman by Greek authorities alleged that they forced her and other migrants to cross the border into Turkey. This violated her rights as a refugee from persecution as well as her rights as a citizen of Europe.
According to court documents obtained by The Associated Press the woman of 32 years, who is French and Turkish citizens, claimed that she and her husband tried to flee Turkey in order to avoid politically motivated prison sentences.
The boat took them across the Evros River to Greece, where they crossed into Greece by boat. She claims that she was mistreated by Greek officials and she was turned away. She is currently in Turkish prison. The woman, who requested anonymity for her safety, filed a lawsuit against Greece at the European Court of Human Rights on Friday.
Experts say that while "pushbacks," or illegal immigration, have become more common despite the fact that they violate European and international law. However, the French woman's case is the first to involve a European citizen.
"We have moved away from allegations to it being known that the Greek authorities engage in pushbacks on a regular basis," stated Hanne Beirens director of Migration Policy Institute Europe. "This case would be very unique...Because it shows how indiscriminately and negatively the Greek authorities act and how it affects people of all backgrounds."
Journalists, lawyers, and human rights organisations have documented for years that Greece has denied asylum to migrants and refugees crossing land or sea borders. People cannot be sent back to countries where they could face torture, punishment, or harm under the principle of non-refoulement, as per international and European human rights law.
Multiple requests by the AP for comment from the Ministry of Migration and Asylum and the Ministry of Citizen Protection, as well as the Greek Embassy in Paris, were not answered by Greek authorities. After a joint media investigation, Greece issued a statement on Thursday evening. It was prompted by a separate pushback that involved two asylum-seekers who were later found dead off the Aegean Coast.
"Greece defends the European Union's external borders in full compliance to international law," said Notis Mitarachi, Greek Migration and Asylum Minister.
According to the International Organization for Migration's Missing Migrants Project, at least 21 migrants died on the Turkish-Greek land border this year.
Friday's statement by the United Nations agency stated that it was concerned about the rising number of migrant deaths as well as ongoing reports of pushbacks at Europe's border with Turkey and Greece. "These actions are contrary to and against States' commitments under international and regional law such the violation of the principle non-refoulement."
Court statements by the French woman, her husband, and her sister detail her story. They also include illustrations that she made from prison. Interviews in Paris with the sister, one of the women's lawyers, documents including her French passport, French National ID, and French Marriage papers, as well as emails and call logs. Screen shots of text and GPS data were also used by the AP.
The woman was born in France to Turkish parents. She left France to study in Turkey in 2013. She and her husband were two of dozens of students arrested and accused of belonging the "Fethullahist Terror Organization", or FETO, in April 2018. They deny all allegations.
Turkey launched a massive crackdown on followers of Fethullah, a U.S-based Muslim preacher, in response to a failed military coup. According to the state-run Anadolu Agency, the government declared the network a terrorist organization and sent close to 5,000 people into prison.
The French woman was held for 11 days before being released on parole. She was released on parole after being detained for 11 days. The Supreme Court confirmed her sentence and that of her husband in June 2013. They decided to flee and sold their family jewels to pay the smugglers for passage to Greece.
Her family believed that she would be safe once she entered Greece, a European Union member and a Schengen region, Europe's visa-free travel area. Her family waited anxiously from 90km outside Paris as the couple crossed Greece's Eastern border. They tracked the woman's movements using a real-time tracking app.
The woman sent a What'sApp text message at 9:38 AM: "We have passed."
Her family contacted both French and Greek authorities to inform them that the couple required assistance.
They wrote that they were being persecuted by the Turkish government. They followed up with phone calls. "We are very worried about them!"
The lawsuit claims that Greek officials stopped them shortly after. They asked the couple to kneel after they presented their French IDs, copies of their French passports, and the French family book that confirmed their marriage. According to the statement, they then took the couple’s phones, power bank, clothes, food, and shoes and cut their shoes.
According to the woman, they were transported in a truck to a closed box inside a gated area. They were kept there for hours along with other migrants from Afghanistan who were barefoot. One of the women claims officers beat one of them.
Her family in France had lost touch with her, and she was becoming increasingly anxious. She was frantic to contact both French and Greek authorities via email and phone.
After sharing their concerns that their sister would be sent back to Turkey, a French official from the Greek Embassy in Paris sent them a text message in French. There is no danger in Greece.
According to the AP, the man confirmed that he had been in touch with the woman's family. However, he denied being authorized to speak to journalists. The Paris Greek Embassy did not respond to requests for comment. The family of the woman claims that they exchanged phone calls with Thessaloniki's French consulate, and also sent an email to the address with her last known location and a copy their passport.
The woman claims that after being held for several hours, they were finally taken on a truck and taken to Evros river. They were then taken to an inflatable boat, without life vests.
She says that she and her husband continued to plead with them to not send us back.
She tried to speak to English and French officials, but to no avail. She claims that they were captured by Turkish soldiers and taken to a station. They were taken to prison the next day.
Her sister, who asked to remain anonymous in order to preserve her safety, said that she was "totally disappointed" with the Greek authorities. "We didn’t believe they would return persecuted persons back to their persecutor."
She said, "We are equally disappointed in French authorities because they abandoned us."
She said that her family has sent numerous letters to French and European Union officials and lawmakers, as well as to President Emmanuel Macron asking for assistance. In a written statement, the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs stated to the AP that the family had maintained a close relationship since they were informed of the woman's situation.
They also requested a consular visit for the Turkish woman being held in Turkey's prison. She told her sister that she had been searched three times and stripped naked. She said that she had shared a room with mice in the first prison she was sent to.
Catherine Briddick is a lecturer at Oxford University in International Human Rights and Refugee Law. She said that the case of the woman "shows the absurdity and Fortress Europe."
She said, "It" should cause European citizens to pause and reflect on what these policies are doing to them as well as the people they're trying not to exclude."
Omer Shatz, along with Violeta Moreno–Lax and Francesco Gatta, was the lawyer who represented the French woman. He argued that their client was the victim of increasing racial disparity at the borders of Europe.
Shatz, the legal director of Front-Lex which challenges EU migration policies, said that "She was really beg to them, and showed them her (French), IDs, and travel documents but they were ignored." "Why? Because of her looks. Probably Muslim, likely looking like a refugee, but probably not white.
Macron and his far-right opponents have taken stronger positions against illegal crossings. Despite growing allegations of human rights violations, European countries have spent billions of dollars on surveillance technology at their borders.
A European Commission spokesperson said it doesn't comment on ongoing legal proceedings but is "concerned about any reports of pushbacks and mistreatment....Efficient border management must be firmly rooted in the respect of human dignity and the principle of non-refoulement." The French woman's family says they received a similar response to a letter they sent the commission.
Francois Crepeau is a Canadian professor at McGill University and former UN special rapporteur for the rights of migrants. Although many European officials would condemn any pushbacks as illegal, Crepeau said that they are actually happy for Greece to do the dirty work for everyone else.