On 27 June 2022, we at ABR were asked by Greece’s National Transparency Authority to submit evidence relating to 28 pushbacks carried out by uniformed officers of the Greek police and/or coastguard in the Eastern Aegean islands and sea, between 25 March 2020, and 20 May 2021.
It is a request we have, after careful consideration and no small hesitation, decided we have no choice but to turn down.
A total of 1,193 people were pushed back in the incidents the NTA wishes to investigate, (in the entire period 1 March 2022 to 31 May 2021, the Greek government pushed back 12,741 men, women and children in 427 incidents).
The large number, combined with the serious nature of the Greek authorities’ consistent law-breaking (as well as violence towards, and its theft of the property of, the people it pushes back) does inspire us to want a full and proper investigation to be carried out.
And as soon as we can be confident such an investigation will take place, we will happily share our documentation – all of which can, in any case, already be found at https://aegeanboatreport.com/ – with the body tasked with carrying it out.
But to our regret, that investigation – one carried out seriously, by people capable of doing so – simply will not and cannot be conducted by the NTA.
We have very good reason to fear, also, that our professional reputation will be damaged by any association with this specific investigation, and by contact with the NTA, and so we must decline to be involved with it.
Our reasons are as follows:
The National Transparency Authority is extremely poorly-placed to undertake investigations into pushbacks being carried out from Greece, under the orders of the Greek government (our position is that this is precisely what is happening: even if that is not your position, it is absolutely undeniable that this is what the NTA is being asked to investigate).
It was set up in 2019, by the Greek government, and its members include close personal friends of government ministers – including the country’s Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis.
At least as important, the NTA was not set up to investigate issues as grand and as serious as the systematic breaking of international law as a policy of the Greek government.
It was created to investigate wrongdoing on the scale of – for example – the Novartis Hellas bribery scandal, in which government ministers belonging to Nea Dimokratia and PASOK took cash from the healthcare company: to determine whether members of the Greek parliament and/or any other political groups in Greece had broken rules.
It simply does not have the capacity, nor the specialist staff, to undertake an investigation on this scale, into whether – and we openly maintain that it certainly has and is – the Greek government, since March 2020, in direct violation of international and European law, ordered and is ordering its uniformed officers to push men, women and children out of Greece.
That is, with the best will in the world, and even if the NTA wants to undertake such an investigation, it simply cannot do so.
Its findings, under such circumstances, will only damage men, women and children seeking safe places to live, learn and work, who the Greek government targets and attacks, and will continue to do so as long as it is ‘legitimised’ by poorly-handled and comically-conducted ‘investigations’.
And this absolutely does have the potential to impact our professional reputation.
Our concerns are not based on nothing, because this has already happened.
On 29 March 2022, the Authority issued a press release regarding its investigation into a series of pushbacks documented by Lighthouse Reports, which had compiled video and photographic footage, and testimonies from people pushed back.
It concluded that ‘there was no evidence’ that pushbacks had taken place – a claim which handed Greece and Europe’s far-Right, including members of the Nea Dimokratia party, to claim there was ‘no evidence’ of pushbacks from Greece.
The conclusion not only ignored the evidence of pushbacks happening which Lighthouse Reports provided to the Authority, and that compiled by us, other organisations, and national and international media across the Western world, but also the fact that the Greek Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis himself has described pushbacks and stated that the Greek government does carry them out.
The Authority revealed that in order to come to this remarkable conclusion, it had asked the Greek Police to ‘examine’ Lighthouse Reports’ videos, and on the basis of the force’s advice, concluded that they – and all the other evidence – was unreliable.
As the Greek Police is in fact one of the major bodies the Authority should have been investigating, this is rather like showing a person a video of them breaking into a house and stealing jewellery and a TV, and following their advice on whether the video constitutes ‘evidence’.
To be as polite as we possibly can be, this does not in any way give us confidence in the Authority’s capability to investigate something as large and important as this.
And it went further.
On Thursday 12 May 2022, more than a month after putting out its press release, a period in which the far-Right consistently – and of course wrongly – smeared Lighthouse as an organisation, claiming it had ‘doctored’ videos, which it had not, the Authority finally published its full report on the ‘investigation’.
It revealed that not only had the Authority accepted without question advice on whether evidence was reliable from one of the major suspects in the matter it was supposed to be investigating, it had failed to speak to a single organisation documenting pushbacks (except to ask Lighthouse for ‘more details’), and had not spoken to a single person who had been pushed back.
It did speak to some people who had arrived in Greece and been registered as having done so, but by definition they have not experienced being pushed-back (or even if they have, they are unwilling to risk their status in Greece by saying so).
To return to our ‘burglary’ metaphor, the Authority appears to have conducted its ‘investigation’ not only by dismissing the evidence on the advice of the person under investigation, but also by refusing to talk to the victims of the burglary and instead only contacting people who have never in their lives been burgled.
To make matters worse, in the more than six weeks between the Authority putting out its press release and publishing its (now deleted) report, Fabrice Leggeri, the executive director of the EU’s border agency Frontex, and a man given a medal by Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis for ‘helping Greece ‘with its ‘refugee response’ was forced to resign in shame and ignominy, when it was proven from Frontex own documents that the agency had both carried out pushbacks, and worked to cover-up pushbacks carried out by the Greek authorities, in the Aegean.
Not only that, in his protracted resignation statements, Leggeri revealed that he had been told it was Frontex’s job to carry out pushbacks.
Of course, this came too late for the Authority to have avoided putting out its press release and then waiting several weeks while politicians and others attacked Lighthouse’s good work, but it was certainly not too late – in fact it had almost two weeks – for it to have decided not to publish its report and instead to have issued a retraction of and apology for, its incorrect conclusion.
We cannot, in all conscience, take part in an investigation we believe will be no more than a masquerade.
The National Transparency Authority, even if it is inclined to, is not equipped to do a proper job of investigating pushbacks from Greece by the Greek government through the authorities it employs.
Its manifest failings, including its failure to really carry out an investigation, its use as its main authority on the reliability of the huge amount of evidence provided to it one of the main suspects in the crime itwas supposed to be investigating, as well as the way in which it – intentionally or otherwise – created the perfect space (and inexplicably enormous amount of time) for the far-Right to attack and smear Lighthouse Reports (and stand back and say nothing while it happened), as well as its failure to even factor-in the Frontex revelations despite the fact that they were directly material to the Greek government’s own illegal activities, lead us to only one conclusion: the only one possible.
It would be both pointless and harmful to us as an organisation, and to the men, women and children seeking safe places to live, learn and work in Europe, for us to take part in this new ‘investigation’, or any other sharede by the NTA. And we shall not.
We cannot justify implying validation of this ‘investigation’, by pretending it is a serious effort to ‘discover the truth’. It is not, and we shall not.
As soon as an investigation is given to a competent body, such as the Greek Ombudsman or a committee of experts (and expert investigators), we shall, of course, be involved if asked.
Until then, you can continue to view all the evidence of the tens of thousands of pushbacks carried out by the Greek government at https://aegeanboatreport.com/