Rule of law in Greece is marred by violence, pushbacks, and humanitarians on trial


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Walking the corridors of European institutions, we pass posters and banners trumpeting our continent’s commitment to rights, freedoms, and justice.
These should be values we live, not words we use when politically expedient, MEP Cornelia Ernst and Spyros Vlad Oikonomou write.


Last month, a report documented vicious punishment beatings of people held in Greek refugee camps and detention centres.

Most who spoke to the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) reported having been beaten indiscriminately. 

Others said they were beaten for daring to complain about inhumane conditions in Greece’s EU-funded detention camps. Respondents also reported being shocked with electric weapons and subjected to racist abuse.

Such violence should make headlines across the continent. Instead, we have normalised it. 

The week the report emerged, the European Court of Human Rights censured Greece over an incident in which its coastguards shot at asylum seekers in the Aegean Sea, resulting in the death of a Syrian refugee after months of hospitalisation.

Almost simultaneously, investigators at Forensic Architecture released another update to their massive database on Greece’s systematic and illegal campaign of violence and ‘driftbacks’ in the Aegean Sea. 

The list includes dozens of cases where people were thrown into the sea without lifejackets by the Hellenic Coast Guard or unidentified masked men, and in three instances, handcuffed.

A fundamental breakdown of the rule of law

Greece’s Coast Guard has and continues to carry out crucial lifesaving work. But the state’s failure to address serious allegations is an insult to those crews who do save lives at great personal risk.

Meanwhile, humanitarians faced absurd charges including espionage in a Greek court, for nothing more than saving lives. 

They were thankfully acquitted last month, but the case has lasted six years. It is one of many where people migrating or people providing assistance are dragged through the courts whilst authorities endanger lives with impunity.

The situation in Greece reflects a fundamental breakdown of the rule of law, as 17 human rights and press freedom organisations said earlier this month in a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. 

The European Parliament has now adopted a resolution on threats to the rule of law in Greece. This must also be followed by meaningful action.

Europe is not, as it claims, powerless to act, and this is not only a Greek problem. Greece’s violence takes place with the tacit consent of Europe, the privately acknowledged price of fortifying the continent’s borders.

The EU has refused to remove its border agency, Frontex, from the Aegean despite the scandal of its complicity in Greek pushbacks and violence, and a recommendation to do so by the agency’s own fundamental rights monitor. 

Europe provides lukewarm condemnation of Greek abuses while aiding and abetting them in practice.

A corrosive and corruptive effect

It is telling that EU institutions, which were all too quick to mete out brutal and damaging economic punishments to Greece during the sovereign debt crisis, refuse to hold it accountable for its systematic erosion of European human rights standards.

The EU funds detention camps where people — many of whom have fled torture elsewhere — are beaten and abused by guards. 

At least €276 million has been pumped into Greek facilities in recent years, which European Commission officials have hailed as a success. 


Repeated condemnations of the camps in the European Court of Human Rights suggest otherwise.

Worse still, through the EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum, EU leadership wants the Greek model exported across Europe. 

Dozens of civil society organisations warned of the risks of child detention, racial profiling, and other harms, while people detained in removal centres have been protesting conditions, but so far their words have fallen on deaf ears.

Border control has had a corrosive and corrupting effect on Greek, and European, politics as a whole. 

It is time to ask a serious question: how many more will have to die in the Mediterranean, be beaten in camps, dumped in the rivers and seas, denied their basic right to claim asylum, prosecuted for carrying out life-saving aid, or wiretapped for reporting on abuses before we realise that something has gone seriously wrong?


As well as being immoral and illegal, this approach has not met its supposed goal of ending irregular migration. 

People are still coming to Europe, with border violence only succeeding in creating a cruel and costly humanitarian crisis that need not have existed. As arrivals continue, politicians demand more of the same, producing a vicious cycle.

All the time, resources that could be going into the real problems Europeans face — from collapsing living standards to the climate emergency — are diverted to those who profit from building camps, weapons, and walls.

Rights, freedoms, and justice should be values we live

Last week, the European Commission raided fresh funding from the Green Deal and aid budget for migration control and war.

We are in dangerous and difficult times, where European leadership is urgently needed. 


The EU has demonstrated positive leadership during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, welcoming significant numbers of refugees by triggering the Temporary Protection Directive. 

None of the problems that the alarmists predicted happened. We can and should learn from that experience.

Walking the corridors of European institutions, we pass posters and banners trumpeting our continent’s commitment to rights, freedoms, and justice. 

These should be values we live, not words we use when politically expedient. We sacrifice them at our own and future generations’ peril.

Cornelia Ernst (Die Linke/The Left) is a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), and Spyros Vlad Oikonomou is Advocacy Officer at the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR).


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