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UN, rights groups accuse Greece of using pandemic to step up migration restrictions

Issued on: 23/08/2020 – 14:12Modified: 23/08/2020 – 14:17

While numerous NGOs and the UN High Comm..

Issued on: Modified:

While numerous NGOs and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have accused Greece of using the Covid-19 epidemic as pretext to “abandon” hundreds of migrants at sea since March, Athens denies the charge and denounces “misinformation”.

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After revelations in the New York Times and accusations by NGOs that Greece has abandoned the migrants at sea, the Greek section of the UNHCR said on Friday it had “reports and testimonies that people were left adrift” in the Aegean Sea without being rescued by the Greek coastguard.

UNHCR specified in a statement that these people “were left adrift in the open sea for a long period of time, often in hard-to-manage and overcrowded boats, waiting to be rescued”.

“The reports, which include a series of direct and credible testimonies have been recorded by the UNHCR office in Greece and have been brought to the attention of the authorities responsible” in Greece, the statement said. The high commissioners office said the Greek government should “seriously investigate” the allegations of the expulsions of migrants towards Turkey “without further delay”.

Misinformation, Athens says

Two days before these appeals, Greeces Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis categorically denied the accusations, branding them as “misinformation” orchestrated by Turkey. “Greece is a country that respects the rule of law, we have granted asylum to tens of thousands of people,” Mitsotakis said in an interview on US television station CNN on August 19.

The New York Times reports that the Greek government has secretly expelled over 1,000 refugees, abandoning them at sea. Greek PM @kmitsotakis says “it has not” happened: “Weve been the victims of a significant misinformation campaign.” pic.twitter.com/FPSjHLj5sG

— Christiane Amanpour (@camanpour) August 19, 2020

For Legal Centre Lesbos, an NGO that offers assistance to refugees and migrants trying to enter Europe via the Greek island, Mitsotakis is in “denial of reality”.

“This practice is widespread, systemic and illegal,” the organisation said on Twitter after the prime ministers television interview.

Catherine Teule, vice president of EuroMed Rights, an NGO that promotes human rights in the Mediterranean region, takes the same position. “These kinds of expulsions are nothing new, whether among the Greeks, Italians or Maltese," she said to FRANCE 24. "But Greece has taken advantage of the confinement due to the Covid-19 pandemic to step them up!”

Report: Over 1,000 migrants pushed back since March

The New York Timess investigation published on August 14 claims that Greece “abandoned” migrants at sea to be rescued by the Turkish coastguard. According to the US daily, Greek authorities brought migrants to the limit of the country's territorial waters before leaving them to their fate on "inflatable and sometimes overburdened life rafts”.

The newspapers investigation found that at least 1,072 people were turned back in at least 31 separate incidents. The investigation gathered testimonies from survivors and evidence from three independent human rights organisations, two researchers and the Turkish coastguard.

Rights expert: Athens took advantage of pandemic

According to experts, the alleged illegal practices grew more frequent during the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown period in Europe. The Greeks “seized the moment”, François Crépeau, a specialist in international law and a former UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, told the New York Times.

“The coronavirus has provided a window of opportunity to close national borders to whoever they wanted,” he said.

Matthieu Tardis, a researcher at French international relations think tank Ifri, shared this viewpoint with FRANCE 24s colleagues at InfoMigrants: “The Greek government took advantage of the pandemic to tighten its migration polices.”

Greek authorities have gone far beyond the acceptable, according to Teule. “We even have cases of asylum-seekers already on the Greek islandsRead More – Source

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Covid: Thousands protest in France against proposed new vaccine pass

A new draft law would in effect ban unvaccinated people from public life.

Demonstrators in the capital, Paris, held placards emblazoned with phrases like “no to vaccine passes”.

Interior Ministry officials said 34 people were arrested and some 10 police officers were injured after the protests turned violent in some places.

The bill, which passed its first reading in the lower house of France’s parliament on Thursday, would remove the option of showing a negative Covid-19 test to gain access to a host of public venues.

Instead, people would have to be fully vaccinated to visit a range of spaces, including bars and restaurants.

The government says it expects the new rules to come into force on 15 January, although the opposition-dominated Senate could delay the process.

But demonstrators on Saturday accused the government of trampling on their freedoms and treating citizens unequally.

Others targeted their anger at the president, Emmanuel Macron, over comments he made earlier this week in relation to unvaccinated citizens, telling Le Parisian newspaper that he wanted to “piss them off”.

One protester, hospital administrator Virginie Houget, told the Reuters news agency that Mr Macron’s remarks were “the last straw”.

And in Paris, where some 18,000 people marched against the new law, demonstrators responded to his coarse language by chanting: “We’ll piss you off”.

TV images showed altercations between protesters and police turning violent in some places. In Montpellier officers used teargas during clashes with the demonstrators.

Turnout for the protests was estimated to be about four times higher than the last major demonstrations on 18 December, when some 25,500 people marched across the country.

But despite the vocal protests, opposition to the new measures is not widespread and recent polling suggests the vast majority of people back the vaccine pass.

France is one of the most highly vaccinated countries in Europe, with more than 90% of over-12s eligible for the shot fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, new coronavirus infections are rising rapidly across France as the new Omicron variant takes hold.

The country recorded more than 300,000 new cases for the second time in a week on Friday and admissions to intensive care wards are rising steadily, putting healthcare systems under strain.

Some hospitals have reported that some 85% of ICU patients are not vaccinated against Covid-19.

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Covid-19: ‘There is no choice between lives and livelihoods,’ OECD chief Gurría says

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of t..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of the year, the head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development backs measures seen by many as tough. Ángel Gurría tells FRANCE 24: "If you win the battle against the virus first, you will have less economic consequences." He adds that "there is no choice between lives and livelihoods; it's a false dilemma".

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Mexican economist Ángel Gurría has been Secretary-General of the OECD since 2006 – throughout the global financial crash and subsequent recovery.

With hopes now high for viable vaccines against Covid-19, he's telling world leaders that the solutions to health and economic crises must carry the elements of our solutions to the environmental crisis too: "The single most important inter-generational responsibility is with the planet. That means the recovery, where we are going to make investments that have an impact for the next 30, 40 years, must absolutely have the sustainability of the planet in mind".

On the recently announced Pfizer vaccine, Gurría says: "It is a game changer […] The possibility of a vaccine being close is of enormous consequence. We still have to wait for it to be finalised, approved and distributed in sufficient amounts that it can get everywhere, so we are calculating that we are going to spend most of 2021 still living with the virus. But it changes expectations; the whole mood has improved considerably since the announcement."

On the refusal of Donald Trump, leader of the OECD's biggest single funder, to concede defeat in the US presidential election, Gurría sounds an upbeat note: "I believe that we will have an orderly transition of power in the United States come 20th January 2021. I believe in the institutions in the United States, I believe that the political forces in the United States will eventually align."

Finally, as talks drag on over a new Brexit deal on the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom, Gurría says he still expects a deal to be struck: "I believe that the common interest will lead to a deal […] The impact in Europe is going to be limited to the trade with the UK. The impact in the UK is going to be very serious, not only because of the flows of trade and flows of investment, but also because the overall business mood will be affected. So I am still counting on a deal."

Produced by Mathilde Bénézet

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Attacks in France and Austria: Europe’s response to extremism

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42

TALKING EUROPE © FRANCE 24
This Friday..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42

TALKING EUROPE
TALKING EUROPE © FRANCE 24

This Friday marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris terror attacks, in which 130 people were killed. The last few weeks have seen more bloodshed, with attacks in the Paris region, in Nice and in the Austrian capital Vienna. European leaders are looking for solutions: ways to stop hate being preached, broadcast and acted upon, while defending individual freedoms of speech and of conscience. In our debate we ask two leading members of the European Parliament, from France and from Austria, what they believe should be done.

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Produced by Yi Song and Perrine Desplats

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Our guests

  • Andreas SCHIEDER, Austrian MEP, Socialists & Democrats
  • Nathalie LOISEAU, French MEP, Renew Europe

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