Filippo Grandi, the U.N. Commissioner for Refugees, on Monday raised concerns about the treatment of asylum seekers and migrants at European Union member states' points of entry. File Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 21 (UPI) -- The United Nations refugee agency voiced deep concern Monday about reports that Greece and other European Union nations have been denying entry to migrants and asylum seekers who reach their borders.
Those seeking protection have been met with violence, ill-treatment and pushback at multiple EU ports of entry, resulting in the loss of lives, Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement.
Grandi further added that they are "alarmed" by the almost 540 reported incidents of informal returns by Greece authorities starting in 2020, with disturbing incites also reported in central and southeastern Europe at the borders of EU member states.
"People report being left adrift in life rafts or sometimes even forced directly into the water, showing a callous lack of regard for human life," Grandi wrote, stating at last three people are reported to have died in this manner since September in the Aegean Sea.
"Equally horrific practices are frequently reported at land borders, with consistent testimonies of people being stripped and brutally pushed back in harsh weather conditions," he said.
The accusations follow thousands of people interviewed throughout Europe by the UNHCR, which found "a disturbing pattern of threats, intimidation, violence and humiliation," he added.
Grandi called for this "legally and morally unacceptable practice" to stop as the right to seek asylum is not dependent upon one's mode of arrival. He also expressed fear that these "deplorable" acts were now becoming normalized and part of nations' policies.
"States must uphold their commitments and respect fundamental human rights, including the right to life and right to asylum," he said. "How Europe chooses to protect asylum-seeks and refugees matters and is precedent-setting not only in the region but also globally."
Notis Mitarachi, Greece's minister of migration and asylum, said that he was "surprised" by Grandi's letter.
"Greece protects the external borders of the European Union, in total compliance with international law and in full respect of the charter of fundamental rights," he said in his own statement. "Our national independent authorities investigate all claims of alleged breeches and we proactively call for evidence to be provided."
He countered that Turkey is not a country at war and said it has an obligation under the 2016 EU-Turkey agreement to prevent illegal departures of migrants and accept their return. He added that since 2015, Greece has rescued more than 230,000 nationals from third countries at sea.
"Ultimately, Greece cannot solve the migration crisis alone, we still urgently need more tangible support and greater commitment at an EU level and from member states, particularly with relocations," he said.