Thank you, chair and good afternoon, honourable members of the Libe Committee.
You have called this meeting because you have concerns about events reported at the Greek-Turkish border.
Concerns about reports of pushbacks, violence and abuse.
And these are concerns that I share.
Pushbacks are clearly forbidden. Everyone has the right to apply for asylum.
All allegations of pushbacks, abuse, violence must be investigated. We expect the national authorities to do so.
The Commission has no power to investigate alleged misconduct by the Member States’ law enforcement authorities.
However, in this as in other cases, we expect national authorities to investigate with a view to establish the facts and properly follow up on any wrongdoing if they find any.
Now, this afternoon we are discussing Greece. But this is not only about Greece, this concerns all our external borders.
I receive reports of push-backs and violations of rights from more than one external border. Incidents that need to be investigated.
We can’t protect our European border, by violating European values.
By violating people’s rights.
Frontex - which already has a complaint mechanism and fundamental rights officers, has an important role to play. And does so.
In my view, it is time to consider if we also need to put in place a new mechanism to monitor and verify reports of pushbacks.
To me it is clear that we need to do more to ensure that Member States are complying with EU law and fundamental rights when they protect our external borders.
Having said so, and made this clear, may I also take this opportunity to update you on the progress that has been made in migration management in Greece, where the Commission is involved.
When I took office seven months ago. There had been many years of huge support from the Commission towards Greece.
But the last six months, we’ve seen significant progress. Even though, of course, some huge challenges still remain.
When Corona started, I think we were all afraid. Many of us were afraid the virus would hit the overcrowded camps on the Greek islands. If that should happen, it would be a disaster. Thanks to hard work and good cooperation we could avoid that situation.
Together the Commission and the Greek government carried out an emergency plan to stop the virus from reaching the camps. And this has been successful.
There are still zero corona cases in the camps. That may of course change. But let’s remember that three months ago, when we had this discussion in the Libe committee, I think very few of us thought this was possible.
We took steps to protect people most at risk .
3,000 vulnerable people have now been identified. And are being moved out of the camps.
Another important progress that also should be mentioned here is the relocation of unaccompanied minors. Children, and teenagers living on their own in unacceptable conditions.
Since we last discussed this in April, Member States have increased their pledges, and many more countries have come on board.
So, I can announce that tomorrow 25 children and teenagers will find a welcome in Portugal. And on Wednesday, 25 more will find a welcome in Finland.
And we have an ongoing process to send all these unaccompanied minors, also now including sick children with their families, to welcoming states.
Greece has also made progress when it comes to asylum applications.
There’s been a substantial increase in the resources of the actors handling migration issues.
That’s why, in the last six months Greece issued more than 45,000 asylum decisions, greatly reducing the backlog. Nearly double compared to the same period last year. Around 20,000 were positive, around 18,000 negative.
We hope that returns can soon resume, including to Turkey. Already 515 people applied to our voluntary returns programme. Especially from Afghanistan and Iraq.
The new Greek law aims to shorten the asylum process with shorter deadlines and streamlined procedures. Following objections from the Commission and others, the Greek government has amended the draft law.
Lack of suitable accommodation can no longer be a justification for detaining minors. That’s good.
Lack of interpretation can no longer justify omitting interviews. That’s good
The Greek authorities have assured the Commission that asylum seekers will be able to access and exit reception centres, which will not be “closed”, but monitored.
The Commission will continue to monitor implementation, to make sure it’s in line with EU Law.
Minister Mitarachi also recognised the importance of integration. Once recognised, refugees start a new life in Greece.
People need support to leave the reception centres and integrate fully into society. From our side, the Commission side, our funds support the HELIOS project. This helps integration of refugees into Greek society. There is a need to scale up this process.
I thank the three Greek ministers for being here today, for good collaboration and real progress made in many ways.
But, to return to today’s topic:
I share the concerns that actually called for this meeting.
Pushbacks are illegal.
All incidents need to be investigated and followed up. Fundamental rights must be respected.
I call on the Greek authorities: follow up on all reported illegal activities and properly investigate them.
Not everybody is entitled to asylum status.
But everyone is entitled, to treatment according to our values.
When people apply for asylum, they appeal to European values.
And that appeal, we must honour.
Please see the full exchange here: