Greek authorities stole more than $2.3M from refugees, migrants: Report

Greek authorities stole more than $2.3M from refugees, migrants: Report

Spanish daily El Pais reports that theft by border agents has become systematic

By Alyssa McMurtry

OVIEDO, Spain (AA) - Greek authorities have stolen at least €2.2 million ($2.3 million) in cash from migrants and refugees who they have pushed back over the last six years, according to an investigation by Spanish daily El Pais published on Monday.

Looking at data from nongovernmental organizations, institutions related to migration in the Evros province, lawyers, and other sources, El Pais said the true figure of stolen cash could be “significantly higher” since many of the deportations and robberies are not registered by local organizations.

The amount of cash is compounded by the robbery of cell phones and other valuable objects like jewelry, which are sometimes the only possessions in the world that the migrants own.

El Pais reported that this type of robbery was uncommon in 2017 but became a systematic practice by 2022. It cited data from the Greek National Commission for Human Rights that found 93% of migrants who suffered pushbacks also were robbed of their belongings and money in 2022. At the same time, 88% said they suffered violence.

“Sometimes authorities keep the cell phones, sometimes they destroy them. But they definitely keep the money. And if they find that someone has been hiding their money, they’ll typically beat them more as a punishment,” Hope Barker, senior policy analyst for Border Violence Monitoring Network, told El Pais.

The El Pais investigation identified a modus operandi that involves capturing the migrants or refugees, denying them the possibility to request asylum and bringing them to places like police stations, warehouses or military barracks, where they are robbed and treated violently. After that, they send them to Türkiye, often in inflatable rafts.

That is exactly what two Cuban citizens who went to a Greek office to seek asylum said happened to them in a complaint accepted by the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

“The agents were clearly looking for money. The man even wanted to look at my underwear,” said Yudith Perez Alvarez, one of the Cubans, in her statement.

“When you take away their phones, you get rid of any evidence that they were there. When you take their money, you make their lives more difficult. When you leave them naked, another trend on the rise, you humiliate and demoralize them. It’s part of a strategy to dissuade them from trying to get back into Greece again,” Eva Cosse from Human Rights Watch told El Pais.

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