By Sam Colvett
Greek and Turkish authorities threw themselves into a hostile exchange of blame after 92 migrants were found at the border between their respective countries stripped of their clothes. Most of the men came from Afghanistan and Syria, and some also carried bodily injuries.They were transferred to the Greek city of Feres and later to the First Reception Centre of Fylakio for asylum processing.
Greek migration minister Notis Mitarachi stated that, “Turkey’s behaviour towards 92 migrants whom we rescued at the borders today is a shame for civilisation. We expect Ankara to investigate the incident and protect at last, its borders with the EU.” Greek authorities also published photos of the migrants without their clothes on in order to publicly point the blame to Turkish authorities for the incident.
This prompted Fahrettin Altun, the communications director of Turkey’s president, to respond by saying, “Greece once again showed the whole world that it does not even respect the dignity of these oppressed people, by publishing the photographs of the refugees it has deported, extorting their personal belongings.”
As of the time of this writing, no official sources have reported which country orchestrated this incident, though the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has condemned the action and called for a full investigation. Unverified reports indicate the migrants themselves have testified that Turkish authorities required them to strip naked before boarding three vehicles that shipped them to the border.
Senator Bob Menendez, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has reportedly already condemned Turkish authorities for their role in the situation.
This exchange comes during a time of increased political conflict between Turkey and Greece. Greece has long accused Turkey of pushing migrants forward to the European Union as a form of protest against its migration policy, while Turkey has long accused Greece of “violently pushing back migrants entering the country by land and by sea.”
The accusations appear to have basis in reality. According to Aljazeera, in 2020, “Turkey said it was unilaterally abandoning its 2016 treaty obligation to hold back or readmit asylum seekers.” Meanwhile, on October 14th (the day of the incident), “OLAF, the European anti-fraud authority, published a report in which it found individuals at Frontex, the European border and coast guard, complicit in Greek pushbacks.”
As a result, this incident is situated within rising geopolitical conflicts between these two countries as well as a drastic increase in irregular migration in the area.
It is unclear as to whether an investigation into the situation will occur anytime soon. In the absence of a clear understanding of who shares the blame for the incident, both Greece and Turkey should avoid utilizing vulnerable migrants as a method to gain political advantage over the other. Though unverified reports indicate Turkish culpability, Greek authorities nevertheless violated the migrants’ privacy at the very least by publicly sharing photos of their naked bodies.
In important humanitarian instances of population displacement, international obligations under refugee law should not be used as political weapons nor considered the ceiling of respect for the dignity of those seeking protection.