Somalia urges probe into death of citizens after Greek pushback

Somalia urged the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to “immediately” investigate the death of five of its citizens near the Greek-Turkish border earlier this month.

The five Somalis were among the 12 people initially found frozen to death on Feb. 2. The death toll rose to 19 later on as more bodies were found.

“The Federal Government of Somalia has been regrettably informed that the migrants found frozen to death along the Greek-Turkish border included five Somali nationals,” its foreign ministry said in a statement.

Somalia said it was “deeply saddened” about the tragic loss of the individuals and is mourning the loss. It offered “heartfelt” condolences to the families of the victims and loved ones.

Mogadishu demanded that concerned countries and the U.N. follow up and investigate circumstances surrounding the deaths and condemned in the “strongest possible terms the violation of human rights, human dignity and safety of human lives in line with” the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to refugees.

Turkey has also called on the international community to investigate Greek pushbacks of irregular migrants after at least 19 froze to death at the border between the two countries.

“The EU keeps silent in the face of Greece’s cruel practices against irregular migrants and turns a deaf ear to our calls,” the Foreign Ministry said on Twitter.

“We call on the international community to investigate Greece’s actions in violation of human rights and not to remain indifferent to these despicable acts,” the ministry added.

Nineteen irregular migrants were found frozen to death near the border last week, having been stripped of their belongings, including clothes and shoes, before being pushed back to Turkey by Greek border officials.

Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu had shared several photos of the sites where the migrants were found, with the victims’ lifeless bodies blurred.

Commenting on the incident, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slammed the European Union’s border protection agency Frontex for cooperating with Greece and the bloc for turning a blind eye to the deaths of migrants. “It is unacceptable to remain indifferent to such an incident,” he said.

Greece, calling the incident a “tragedy,” denied involvement, with Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi saying on Twitter that any suggestion that Greek forces had pushed the victims back would be “patently false.”

In another statement, Turkey’s Defense Ministry, criticizing Greece over its “inhumane practices” against irregular migrants, said Thursday that Athens was ruthlessly trying to push back migrants, including women and children, in the Aegean Sea.

Greece continues its pushbacks of irregular migrants while violating international law and human rights, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also said Tuesday, calling on the international community to put a stop to Athens’ policy.

Çavuşoğlu said: “Many migrants lost their lives because of the pushback, because Greece pierced the boats. The European Union is as guilty as Greece. Greece gets support in this regard and they have an excuse, (saying) ‘Greece protects the borders of the EU,’ whereas (in fact) the borders of Europe start from Turkey in the east and south.”

He added that the migrants’ deaths are part of a pattern by Greece. “Unfortunately Greece has continued its pushback policy by openly violating human rights in violation of international law,” he said, referring to thousands of asylum-seekers pushed back by Greece, endangering their lives in the process.

Turkey and Greece have been key transit points for asylum-seekers aiming to cross into Europe to start new lives, especially those fleeing war and persecution.

Turkey and human rights groups have repeatedly condemned Greece’s illegal practice of pushing back asylum-seekers, saying it violates humanitarian values and international law by endangering the lives of vulnerable migrants, including women and children.

Greece’s pushbacks of irregular migrants have increased by 97% in 2021 compared to the previous year, according to a report by the Norwegian nongovernmental organization (NGO) Aegean Boat Report, which monitors the movement of migrants in the area.

Also, hundreds of people protested in central Athens Sunday against Greece’s illegal pushbacks of migrants and refugees after the migrants froze to death last week as a result of the practices of Greek border units.

According to Greek police, around 700 people marched from Omonia Square at the center of Athens to Syntagma Square in front of the Greek parliament.