The bodies of at least 12 refugees frozen to death were found near the Ipsala town on the Greece-Turkey border on Wednesday, February 2. Turkey claimed that the refugees were part of a larger group of 22 refugees who were trying to cross to the European Union (EU) via Turkey. They were allegedly pushed back by Greek border guards despite the freezing weather conditions.
Sharing photos of the dead refugees on his Twitter account, Turkish interior minister Süleyman Soylu claimed that Greek authorities forced the refugees to remove their clothes and shoes before pushing them inside the Turkish border where the night temperature could be anywhere between minus two to three degree Celsius. He also blamed the EU’s policy of pushing back refugees as inhuman and weak.
📍 Greece Ipsala Border
12 of the 22 migrants pushed back by Greek Border Units, stripped off from their clothes and shoes have frozen to death.
EU is remediless, weak and void of humane feelings.
Greek border units thug against victims, tolerant towards FETO pic.twitter.com/EP1TOqsGCB
— Süleyman Soylu (@suleymansoylu) February 2, 2022
Greece’s migrants minister Notis Mitarachi denied the allegations and blamed Turkey for the tragedy. He claimed that none of the refugees had reached the Greek border. He asked Turkey to stop playing the blame game and implement the agreement signed with the EU in 2016.
The EU had signed a deal with Ankara, as per which, the EU pays billions of euros to Turkey as compensation for its efforts to stop the refugees from moving into Europe through its borders. Turkey hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees and over half a million Afghan refugees.
Due to unbearable conditions in the camps in Turkey and lack of prospects of returning home, hundreds of refugees try to move to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea or through the land borders with Greece.
Illegality of pushing back refugees
The International Organization for Migrants (IOM) has called for an investigation into the alleged expulsion of refugees from Greece. According to the 1951 UN convention on refugees and its 1967 protocol, no country can force refugees to leave their borders.
Due to the strict EU policy of not allowing refugees in, Greek authorities have often been found to be using force to stop the refugees at the border and push them into the Turkish side or to the sea, leading to the death of hundreds of refugees every year.
Last year in November, Polish authorities were accused of using force to stop refugees from Iraq and other countries from crossing the border. This led to the death of some refugees and caused a massive diplomatic row between EU and Belarus.
Reacting to the news of the death of the refugees on Wednesday, IOM spokesperson Safa Msehi said, “mounting reports of push backs against people on the move at some European borders and many parts of the world are extremely concerning and should be investigated and action taken,” Anadolu Agency reported.
Every person searching for a better life deserves safety and dignity.
We need safe, legal routes for migrants and refugees.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) February 3, 2022
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at least 2,500 people died or went missing at sea last year while crossing to Europe via North Africa and Turkey.
Wednesday’s incident was the second such case this year. Last month, two Afghan refugees were found dead in the cold on the Turkey-Iran border. According to the Human Rights Association in Turkey, at least 61 refugees have died from freezing cold in the last three years in Turkey’s Van Saray district alone, Bianet reported.