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Greek coastguards 'throwing migrants to their deaths' may be repeated in Britain, leaders warned

The Greek coastguard has been blamed for the deaths of 43 migrants, and is alleged to have thrown migrants into the sea

Greek coastguard ship carrying migrants

The Greek coastguard has denied the claims. Image: ChadBriggs/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

The death of migrants seeking refuge in Greece is “not an isolated issue” and is a reflection on the demonisation of asylum seekers, migrant charities have warned, after allegations that Greek coastguards had thrown migrants into the sea.

A new report alleges that 43 deaths between May 2020 to May 2023 were a result of the Greek coastguard pushing migrants back to international waters, and in some cases abandoning them in dinghies.

Interviewees told the BBC they were thrown into the sea by the Greek coastguard. “They threw me zip-tied in the middle of the sea. They wanted me to die,” one man, from Somalia, said.

“The cruelty and inhumanity of the treatment of those seeking safety by the Greek coastguard is not an isolated issue,” said Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voice.

“When politicians use language which is deliberately aimed at turning people coming to their countries into an ‘other’, when they use language which dehumanises people, the inevitable outcome is that lives will be lost. 

“We need politicians to start focusing on policies which provide support and protection, not ones which continue to see people being treated in such abhorrent ways as we have seen here.”

Asylum and migration policies have formed a prominent part of the UK’s general election campaigning. Rishi Sunak’s “stop the boats” slogan is accompanied by a promise asylum seekers will be sent to Rwanda if he wins the election.

Both main parties have promised to end the use of hotels to accommodate asylum seekers, and to cut the asylum backlog. Plans for a new “Border Security Command” form a key pillar of Keir Starmer’s programme for government.

Migrant deaths and policies around asylum sit among a wider context of the treatment of refugees in Europe, said Ravishaan Rahel Muthiah, communications director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.

“The vicious actions of the Greek coastguard is the culmination of ‘stop the boats’ policies across Europe. Our border policies are murderous,” said Muthiah.

“Our politicians must see this as a warning of things to come, if they do not immediately halt their divisive language and policies on asylum, this Greek tragedy will be seen on British shores. The time is well overdue for a politics of care and welcome to people who move.”

Denying the allegations, the Greek coastguard told the BBC its staff acted in full compliance with international law, and added: “It should be highlighted that from 2015 to 2024, the Hellenic Coast Guard has rescued 250,834 refugees/migrants in 6,161 incidents at sea. The impeccable execution of this noble mission has been positively recognized by the international community.”

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