„E.U. Interpreter Says Greece Expelled Him to Turkey in Migrant Roundup
[…] A European Union interpreter says that in September, Greek border guards mistook him for an asylum seeker, assaulted him and then forced him across the border into Turkey alongside dozens of migrants.
His allegation is particularly problematic for Greek officials because he is a legal European Union resident employed by the E.U. border agency, Frontex. And he has turned over evidence to the agency to support his claims of abuse, according to European officials dealing with his case.
The European Union, which has mostly looked the other way on abuses of migrants, is now being forced to confront the problem.
Surfacing in the wake of an acute border crisis with Belarus over migrants, the case has commanded the attention of senior European leaders for weeks. Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for migration, said she called the interpreter on Friday to discuss his accusations. […] he told her he had witnessed at least 100 migrants who were pushed over the border and sometimes roughed up. […]
The interpreter told The New York Times that he had filed a complaint with Frontex, and European officials confirmed this. They said the complaint was being treated as credible because of the man’s position and the documentation he provided, including audio and video recordings.
The man asked not to be identified out of concern for his safety and his livelihood. Two European officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case with reporters, confirmed his identity.
He said that he and many of the migrants he was detained with were beaten and stripped, and that the police seized their phones, money and documents. His attempts to tell the police who he was were met with laughter and beatings, he said. He said he was taken to a remote warehouse where he was kept with at least 100 others, including women and children. They were then put on dinghies and pushed across the Evros River into Turkish territory. […]
The man’s story came to light at a critical moment in Europe’s reckoning with its practices in dealing with migrants, which have drawn renewed scrutiny after a standoff at the Belarus-Poland border that left 12 migrants dead. In a bid to put pressure on the European Union over a geopolitical standoff, Belarus lured migrants into its territory, left them in a frigid forest and encouraged them to cross into E.U. countries, including Poland. Polish authorities repelled them, sometimes violently.
That crisis, together with a similar standoff between Greece and Turkey last year with asylum seekers caught in the middle, has laid bare a growing gulf between European laws and norms in treating asylum seekers, and the reality on the ground.
„With tens of thousands of victims who drowned in the Mediterranean, thousands languishing in what has been described as concentration camps in Libya, the misery in the camps on the Greek islands for so many years, people drowning in the Channel or freezing to death on the border between Belarus and the E.U., the European Commission cannot claim anymore that these are incidents, accidents, exceptions,“ she said.
„It is not a policy failure,“ she added. „It is policy.“ […]
The interpreter, who is originally from Afghanistan, has lived for years as a legal resident in Italy. He was employed by Frontex as a member of an E.U.-funded team of experts deployed to help the border guards communicate with asylum seekers.
He had been working in the border region of Evros alongside Greek and E.U. guards, and was on his way to Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, for a break when the police pulled him and a number of migrants off a bus, he said.
After they were beaten, detained and forced into Turkey, the interpreter said, he managed to reach Istanbul, where he received consular assistance from the Italian authorities, and was eventually repatriated to Italy on Sept. 18. […]“