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Toughening Stance of Greece Towards Irregular Migrants

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A tragedy that occurred on the territory of Greece in August 2022 led to a toughening of Athens’ policy towards irregular migrants. The Athens administration found the migrants stranded on an islet in Evros after a long time, claiming that they were not on Greek soil. The announcement of this development, especially by international news agencies,[1] has been a worrying development for the Greek Government.

Although activists contacted the Greek police, the European Union (EU) Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Greece to rescue the migrant group, the calls were dismissed as fake news and ignored.[2] The Greek authorities found refugees stranded on the islet in Meriç only after the international community addressed this issue. However, the prolongation of the process has led to the death of a five-year-old girl on Greek soil.

Greece’s response to the tragedy was to extend the barrier in Meriç to the entire Turkish border. The Athens administration has avoided taking responsibility from the beginning of the incident and has thrown the ball to third parties. Thus, Athens aims to reduce migrant crossings across the border to a minimum. Considering Greece’s current policy towards refugees, this development should not be considered a surprise.

It can be said that Greece’s policy towards migrants has two pillars.  These are the land and the sea. Greece is trying to send back refugees who have crossed its land border to its country by starving them and pushing them towards the Turkish land border. At sea, regardless of whether it is international waters or Greek territorial waters, it pursues a policy that risks the lives of migrants by sinking migrant boats and forcing them to go toward Turkish territorial waters.

The support Greece has received from the EU institutions in its tough policy against irregular migrants should not be denied. Because at the end of April 2022, Fabrice Leggeri, the President of Frontex at the time, was forced to resign for turning a blind eye to the pushback of migrants. Leggeri supported the Greek Coast Guard’s policy of “pushback” migrants and helped cover them up.[3]

As can be seen, Greece, with the support it received from the EU institutions, attacked the boats of migrants and forced them to stay stranded at sea by moving them away from its territorial waters. In other words, the EU has supported Greece’s policy towards migrants. The reason why Brussels supports this policy of Greece is that Athens claims that the EU’s maritime and land borders start with Greece.

Moreover, the disclosure that Nikos Androulakis, the leader of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), who is in opposition in Greece, was secretly wiretapped by the Greek Intelligence Agency (EYP) in August 2022 revealed another fact. It has been understood that in addition to the PASOK leader, many journalists were also wiretapped by the EYP in the scandal.

Greek journalist Stavros Malihoudis, who was revealed to have been secretly wiretapped by the EYP, stated that this was due to his reporting on “migrants and illegal pushbacks implemented by the Athens administration.”[4] As can be understood from Malihoudis’ words, the fact that he raised the issue of irregular migration, in particular, has made him a target of the EYP. However, it should not be forgotten that the Greek Government is the one who creates and maintains the policy.

Considering the scandal regarding the wiretapping of the opposition leader in Greece, the situation may provide clues as to whether the wiretaps were carried out only on the initiative of the EYP or on the directive of the Mitsotakis Government. Especially, it is noteworthy that the EU top management has remained silent about Greece’s tough stance towards irregular migrants. While the EU harshly criticizes countries such as Hungary and Poland in the face of these policies, it does not react to Greece in any way. The most important reason for this is that the Greek Prime Minister’s party, New Democracy (ND), is affiliated with the European People’s Party (EPP), of which EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is a member. Therefore, the fact that Mitsotakis has close relations with the EU top management prevents the harsh policy of the Athens administration towards irregular migrants from coming to the EU agenda.

Consequently, as can be seen from the tragedy, Greece has taken steps to increase border security to avoid being in a difficult situation in front of international public opinion again.  It should be noted that Greece is not acting alone in implementing this policy. As can be seen from the example of Frontex, the EU authorities support Greece’s harsh policies towards irregular migrants.


[1] “Greece Says It Will Try to Retrieve Migrant Girl’s Body From River İslet”, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/greece-says-it-will-try-retrieve-migrant-girls-body-river-islet-2022-08-16/, (Date of Accession:09.10.2022).

[2]  Karolína Augustová, “Who is Responsible For The Deaths of Children at EU Borders?”, Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2022/9/27/children-die-at-eus-borders-and-the-eu-is-to-blame, (Date of Accession:09.10.2022).

[3] Alice Tidey, “Frontex Chief Resigns Over Misconduct and Human Rights Violations Probe”, Euronews, https://www.euronews.com/2022/04/29/frontex-chief-resigns-over-misconduct-and-human-rights-violations-probe , (Date of Accession: 10.10.2022).

[4] Ahmet Genctürk, “Greek Journalists Reiterate Government Fully Responsible For İllegal Surveillance”, Anadolu Agency, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/greek-journalists-reiterate-government-fully-responsible-for-illegal-surveillance-/2680129, (Date of Accession:10.10.2022).

Cemal Ege ÖZKAN
Cemal Ege ÖZKAN
Cemal Ege Özkan, 2019 yılında Ankara Üniversitesi Dil ve Tarih-Coğrafya Fakültesi Tarih Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2022 senesinde aynı üniversitenin Türk İnkılap Tarihi Enstitüsü Atatürk İlkeleri ve İnkılap Tarihi Anabilim Dalı’nda hazırladığı “Türk Siyasi Hayatında Selim Rauf Sarper ve Faaliyetleri” başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Hâlihazırda aynı enstitüde doktora eğitimine devam etmektedir. 2020-2021 yılları arasında Türk Tarih Kurumu Yüksek Lisans Bursiyeri olan Özkan, iyi derecede İngilizce bilmektedir.