Two videos posted online on August 23 show Greek members of the extreme right illegally “arresting” migrants in Evros, a Greek region bordering Turkey. The footage shows the militants forcing one group of men to sit in the dirt. Another group of terrified migrants have been crammed into a trailer. While members of the far right have carried out this type of illegal arrest of migrants before, it is rare to have footage of it. The attackers accuse the migrants of being responsible for the widespread fires in the region. These militiamen feel empowered by the political context hostile to migrants, say our Observers.
“Four more … you see? It is noon and where are the authorities? […] We will contact the police, but there is never any response,” rages the man filming a video posted online on August 27. While it is clear the video was filmed in the region of Evros, it’s not clear when it was filmed.
The man filming points the camera at four men, migrants, sitting on the ground in the dirt behind a Land Rover. Meanwhile, at least two other men loiter alongside the vehicle – seemingly in cahoots with the man behind the camera. At the end of the video, the man turns the camera on himself and you can see that he is bearded and wearing a black tee-shirt and camouflage pants.
The video was posted on social media by an account under the name Walandi Abrassis – likely the man who filmed it.
A video posted online a few days earlier shows a similar scene – albeit even more disturbing. The guy filming focuses the shot on his Land Rover, which has a trailer attached. When he opens the door, there are at least four men crammed inside, looking terrified.
“I’ve loaded up 25 of them into the trailer. Get organised, get them all out and grab them,” he says. He seems to be speaking to his cronies about the migrant men in the trailer. “The whole mountain is full, guys.”
“They swore to burn us […] They will burn us, that’s all I’ll say,” he adds, this time referring to the wildfire that has been raging across the northeast of Greece, considered to be the largest ever recorded in the European Union. According to the local press, this video was filmed in Alexandroupoli, just a few kilometres from the Turkish border, the Evros River.
The website the Press Project later reported that these militia men had “arrested” 13 migrant men, not 25 as the man filming claimed. The victims told journalists that the militants had beaten them with metal rods.
“They took off all of our clothes and filmed us. We stayed there a long time, sweating and unable to breathe,” said one of the 13 men who was detained.
Greek authorities have put the man who filmed this second video under house arrest awaiting charges.
‘These militia members arrest migrants but because they can’t deport them, they hand them over to police’
Panayote Dimitras is the spokesperson for the Greek Helsinki Monitor, a human rights NGO that gathers information on migrants who have been forcibly deported from Greece either by the police or civilians:
This phenomenon has existed for decades, but this time they decided to share videos of their actions themselves. This footage illustrates things that organisations like ours have been reporting for a long time. The release of the footage resulted in a deputy prosecutor of the Supreme Court assigning a local prosecutor to deal with it. That said, nothing has been done about all of these illegal deportations orchestrated by Greece, even though they have been widely documented. So it is doubtful that people will be punished here. However, all of this information can be added to the files that we can give to international institutions like the European Court of Human Rights to show how that happens to migrants in the region.
We know that these militias cooperate with local police. In Evros, these militia members arrest migrants but because they can’t deport them, they hand them over to police. The police don’t report the incidents because if the migrants’ presence is recorded, then they have the right to claim asylum and can no longer be illegally deported.
Far-right parties like the Golden Dawn and the Greek Solution are trying to find support in the region and it is clear that the men in these videos have links to local far right organisations.
The man who filmed the video posted on August 27 hasn’t yet been arrested. However, he was interviewed in a far-right publication as well as on Facebook. He claimed that he was just bringing water and assistance to migrants.
On Greek social media, citizen patrol groups have been working together to chase off migrants who have crossed the border from Turkey, as shown in a report by the Press Project, which shared screengrabs of a conversation on Viber. Leaders of the far right openly blamed the fires on migrants travelling through Evros. The chairperson of the Greek Solution party, Paris Papadakis, who comes from Alexandroupoli, wrote on Facebook: “I have information about illegals who are disrupting the work of [Canadair] pilots. We need to act! […] We are at war”.
On August 30, the rightwing Prime Minister, Konstantinos Mitsotakis, implied that migrants were behind the fire, though there is no proof of that.
“It is almost certain that the causes are man-made,” the prime minister said. “It is also almost certain that the fire began on routes often used by illegal migrants who have entered our country.”
However, he added that “acts of self-defence and self-proclaimed sheriffs are not tolerated by this government”,
‘They have a certain ideology that is not very different to that of the state: to protect the border, not letting people cross, using violence to prevent them’
Eva (not her real name) lives in Evros and has been following the situation closely. She asked to remain anonymous:
In March 2020, when Turkey opened its borders to put pressure on the European Union, police officially asked for help from civilians in controlling the migrants who entered the country. A local organisation of fishermen on Evros, Aenisio Delta Evros, became very active in arresting migrants. Officially, that’s no longer the case and the police don’t want people to think that they tolerate that. But when you ask them if they are still doing it … they won’t respond to the question, which says a lot.
A lot of these people have very good relations with the police and the army especially the Aenisio Delta Evros association, and also the local authorities. It’s wrong to call them vigilantes: they have an internalised ideology of protecting the border, to serve the state. In their mind, they don’t do anything to go against the interest of the Greek state. They have a certain ideology that is not very different to that of the state: to protect the border, not letting people cross, using violence to prevent them, which is a very significant pattern in Evros.