The number of refugees and migrants reaching Greece via land routes from Turkey are on the rise, at the time Greek authorities are accused of carrying out illegal pushbacks on land borders.
Sources reported that the Greek police said 1,658 refugees and migrants were detained in March after crossing into Greece through the Evros River, which is situated on the Turkish border.
According to the Greek daily Ekathimerini, the number was more than five times higher than the same period in 2017, which saw only 262 people detained on the country’s frontier with Turkey.
This new data comes just two months after the Greek Council for Refugees published a report alleging that Greek authorities were increasingly conducting “systematic pushbacks” in the Evros region.
Eva Cosse, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said pushbacks are considered a violation of both international refugee law and human rights law.
“Pushbacks at sea stopped when the [Syriza] government came to power [in January 2015], but pushbacks on land have never really stopped,” she said.
While Greece has been widely criticized for pushbacks and the declining humanitarian conditions for tens of thousands of asylum seekers trapped in camps, migration minister Dimitris Vitsas has defended the government’s approach to the crisis.
“One of our central priorities for the immediate future is the implementation of major infrastructure projects in the islands, in cooperation with the local government, aiming at enhancing everyday life of the inhabitants who are in the front line during the ongoing refugee crisis,” he said.
Yonous Muhammadi, head of the Greek Forum of Refugees, also said the number of people crossing via Evros is “increasing”.
“We have people coming four or five times, entering Greece and then being pushed back to Turkey,” he was reported as saying.
Describing the land route as “dangerous”, Muhammadi cited a string of reported deaths along the Evros River, where rising waters made the journey perilous.
Meanwhile, the number of refugees and migrants reaching Greek islands by crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey was ostensibly on the rise again.