Asylum seekers in Greece report being beaten, strip-searched and sent back to sea

As people arriving on Greek islands are being pushed back to sea, MSF urges the Greek government and European leaders to take immediate measures to ensure that individuals seeking protection in Greece are treated with humanity and dignity.

People seeking safety in Europe are being met on Greece’s Aegean islands with aggression, degrading treatment and physical violence – including being beaten, handcuffed, and strip-searched – having their possessions confiscated, and being forcibly sent back to sea, according to reports received by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

MSF has published a report, In plain sight: The human cost of migration policies and violent practices at Greek sea borders. The report contains accounts and information gathered over the period from August 2021 to July 2023 by our medical teams on Lesvos and Samos, Greece. Based on the testimonies of 56 patients, and on MSF’s medical data and observations, the report reveals the shocking reality of the welcome received by people seeking refuge in Europe.

Some patients report that their possessions, including mobile phones, money, and medications, were confiscated, before they were forced onto boats, taken out to sea, transferred onto life rafts, and then cast adrift – an illegal practice known as pushbacks.

Over the past two years, MSF teams on Lesvos and Samos have provided medical assistance to 7,904 people, 1,520 of them children, shortly after their arrival on the islands. Many of the new arrivals were in a state of emotional distress, as well as being exhausted, wet, thirsty, hungry, suffering from exposure to extreme heat or cold. Others were covered in injuries and bruises, reportedly as a result of, or while escaping from, violence.

“Most of these people fled countries with a high prevalence of violence and persecution,” says Sonia Balleron, MSF head of mission in Greece. “Many survived horrific journeys, including suffering war injuries, sexual violence and trafficking. For these already vulnerable people, violence or mistreatment at the border further aggravates the medical and psychological consequences of their horrific experiences.”

Meanwhile, civil society organisations and aid agencies attempting to provide assistance to vulnerable people on the Aegean islands have found their actions blocked by authorities and run the risk of prosecution.

“We urge the Greek government and European leaders to take immediate measures to ensure that individuals seeking protection in Greece are treated with humanity and dignity,” says Dr Christos Christou, MSF international president. “This includes ending the climate of impunity for those who perpetrate violence against people seeking protection, in compliance with European and international law.”

“We also call for a permanent end to pushbacks at borders, for an independent monitoring system to be set up on the Aegean islands, and for search and rescue operations to be stepped up at sea,” Dr Christous continues. “Finally, we call for people seeking protection to be granted access to fair asylum procedures and medical and humanitarian assistance on arrival.”