Pushbacks in the Aegean Sea
Greece and the EU try to prevent migrants from crossing Europe’s external border by all means. In cases where migrants do manage to arrive, Greece does not appear to consider itself bound by morality or law and instead forces migrants back over the border to Turkey. This occurs at both the land and sea borders. And the practice is not new, as reports of pushbacks in the Aegean Sea have been made for years. What is new, however, is the extent of these incidents. Over recent months, we have heard about pushbacks taking place almost daily while there is an increasing amount of video and photo evidence, media reports, and investigations.
In most cases, pushbacks see migrants forcibly returned over a border they have just crossed. Pushbacks are not deportations, since migrants have no opportunity to apply for asylum and thus are denied access to national and European legal structures. This practice is illegal for several reasons. According to the Geneva Refugee Convention, everybody has the right to request international protection.
Likewise, according to the non-refoulment principle, states must not turn away anyone who enters their borders with the intention of seeking asylum. These principles are encoded in the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and thus binding for all EU states.
At the same time, pushbacks at sea almost always affect a group of people who cross the border together in a boat, despite the fact that collective deportations are also prohibited under the EU charter. The law of the sea also decrees that boats in distress must be rescued, irrespective of who is in distress and who is rescuing.