In a May 3 statement, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Greek government to end its practice of illegal "pushbacks" of asylum seekers at both the land and the sea borders with Turkey. Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic said she had "received a number of consistent and credible allegations concerning acts of the Greek Coast Guard to prevent boats carrying migrants reaching the Greek islands." Following reports of verbal and physical abuse inflicted on migrants being pushed back to Turkey, she indicated that acts of the Greek state may be in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, on prohibition of torture. (Jurist)
After a trial that lasted more than five years, a court in Greece on Oct. 7 ruled that the far-right Golden Dawn political party is a criminal organization. The party, founded in the 1980s by Nikos Michaloliakos, came to prominence in 2012 when it gained 21 seats in parliamentary elections. The party's politics are openly xenophobic and anti-Semitic, using the slogan "Blood, honor, Golden Dawn!"—adapted from the Hitler Youth slogan "Blood and honor." After the election, party members broke into the homes of Egyptian immigrant fishermen in the port of Perama, brutally beating them with clubs and iron rods. A year after the election, party members murdered Pavlos Fyssas, a Greek anti-fascist musician. In 2016, the party endorsed Donald Trump for US president, hailing him as a "true patriot" who will "not accept illegal immigrants in the USA."
Documentation is mounting of Greek authorities carrying out violent "pushbacks" of asylum-seekers and migrants at the country's land and sea borders with Turkey. The practice violates EU and international law, but in the past four months human rights groups and media outlets have documented an uptick in its use at the Greece-Turkey land border. Rights groups have also documented the abandonment of asylum-seekers in "floating tents" without any means of propulsion in the Aegean Sea, and masked men sabotaging boats carrying asylum-seekers. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has urged Greece to investigate.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled April 2 that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic failed to uphold their obligations regarding refugee quotas as required by law. The countries could face financial penalties for their actions. In 2015 EU leaders established a refugee relocation program in response to the large numbers of asylum-seekers from war-torn Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. EU countries were supposed to apportion a share of asylum-seekers among those that arrived in Greece and Italy. Poland and the Czech Republic, according to the ECJ, "failed to fulfill their obligations under European Union law" by not accepting the number of refugees they had promised.
Refugees have become political pawns in a power play between the EU, Greece and Turkey. Turkey abrogated its deal with the European Union to contain refugees within its borders, as a means of pressuring the EU to support its military campaign in Syria. Dramatic scenes ensued at the land and sea borders between Greece and Turkey: Greek police tear-gassing and pushing back crowds of asylum-seekers at a northern border crossing; the Hellenic Coast Guard firing warning shots at a dinghy full of asylum-seekers in the Aegean Sea; angry protesters preventing another group in a dinghy from disembarking in the port on the island of Lesvos. Amid all this came a timely reminder of what can happen when people feel compelled to attempt ever more dangerous journeys. The UN migration agency, IOM, announced that the drowning of 91 people off the coast of Libya last month and other recent fatalities had taken the toll in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014 above 20,000.
Amid all the recent talk about how the war in Syria is approaching an imminent end, it suddenly looks like it is set for international escalation. With Turkish forces resisting the Assadist advance into Idlib province, the last rebel-held territory, there is the clear potential for direct combat between a NATO member and the Damascus regime or its Russian backers. Turkey's military shot down two regime warplanes over northwest Idlib on March 1, hours after Assadist forces brought down a Turkish drone over the region. The Damascus regime said the pilots parachuted to safety. At least 34 Turkish troops were killed in air-strikes in Idlib n the previous days. (Al Jazeera, Reuters)
The Turkish air force on Jan. 15 again carried out raids targeting the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a Yazidi militia, in the autonomous Sinjar area of Iraq's Ninevah province. Reports said at least four people were killed, including militia commander Zardasht Shingali. The YBS, aligned with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), played a key role in liberating the Sinjar area from ISIS after the Islamic State's genocide against the Yazidis in 2014. After the new air-strikes, the Kurdish Freedom Movement umbrella group called for protests against the Turkish aggression in cities across Europe. Demonstrations were reported from Athens, Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Marseille, Stockholm and Utrecht. (Al Monitor, The Canary)
After meeting in Ankara Oct. 17, US Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached a deal to suspend Turkey's military offensive in northern Syria over the next five days to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from a designated area along the border. This is being widely reported as a "ceasefire." However, the 13-point agreement does not use the word "ceasefire," but states: "The Turkish side will pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow the withdrawal of YPG from the safe zone within 120 hours. Operation Peace Spring will be halted upon completion of this withdrawal." Operation "Peace Spring" is the utterly Orwellian code-name for the Turkish offensive, and the YPG is the People's Protection Units, the Kurdish militia in northeast Syria. The YPG was not a party to the "ceasefire," but nonetheless agreed to abide by it. Still, fighting has continued, with at least eight civilians reported killed less than 24 hours into the deal. There is also no consensus on the geographic limits of the area covered by the deal. The official text does not define it, and Turkey and the US remain at odds on the size the "safe zone" (another Orwellian construction) that Ankara seeks to establish in Syria. Ankara is still asserting it will be 100 kilometers deep, while Washington is calling for 20 kilometers. (Rudaw, Middle East Eye, AP)