Journalists attacked during coverage of migrant camps; police use excessive force against migrants


On 6th March 2020, 256 organisations sent an open letter to the Greek Prime Minister and European Union leaders asking them to "protect legality and humanity". In the letter they expressed deep concern about the ‘political tooling’ and ‘victimisation’ of people trapped at Europe's borders. They also denounced attacks towards humanitarian and human rights organisations who are working with refugees. They point out that “the climate of suspicion against solidarity, which is also promoted by government representatives, fosters violence and lawlessness in the wider society.”

The organisations called on the European Union to act:

“The EU should assume substantial responsibilities for the protection of people moving in the context of managing a major European issue, with a view to respect for human dignity and the principles of law. The right to asylum and the observance of the principle of non-refoulement are essential elements of international and Union law and the European Union authorities must therefore take the necessary measures to protect them.”

Similarly, another letter signed by 121 organisations was sent on 25th March 2020 toreiterate the danger of current arrangements for asylum seekers entering Greece.

Expression and Peaceful Assembly

Journalist attacked during anti-refugee protests

On 19th January 2020 during a protest by right-wing groups against the government’s refugee policy in Athens, a group of ten unknown men attacked journalist Thomas Jacobi, destroying his mobile phone and recorder. A group of journalists intervened to stop the violent attack. Police have opened an investigation into the incident.Following the attack, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released a statement calling for a thorough investigation:

"Greek authorities must thoroughly investigate the targeted assault of journalist Thomas Jacobi and ensure that he can continue his reporting without fear. Journalists must be free to cover protests and right-wing groups safely, and police must take responsibility to protect the press seriously,” - CPJ Europe and Central Asia Programme Coordinator Gulnoza Said.

On 1st March 2020, a group of protesters in Lesbos tried to block asylum seekers entering the country and attacked journalists who were covering their arrival.

Journalists posted about violations that took place against them on social media:

  • Protesters kicked and beat freelance photojournalist Michael Trammer and threw his camera into the water.
  • Protesters beat freelance photojournalist Raphael Knipping with his camera stand. He was with Trammer at the time of his attack.
  • Sticks were thrown by protesters at Der Spiegel reporter Giorgos Christides and his car was chased.
  • Freelance journalist Franziska Grillmeier and photojournalist Julian Busch also had sticks thrown at their car.

In a statement the CPJ called for a full investigation into these attacks:

“Greek authorities must quickly and thoroughly investigate the attacks on reporters covering refugee movements on the island of Lesbos and ensure that they can continue their reporting safely and without fear. Greek police have an obligation to protect members of the press,” - CPJ Europe and Central Asia Programme Coordinator Gulnoza Said.
Excessive force used on migrant protesters

On 3rd February 2020, thousands of migrants, including children, gathered to protest the conditions in the overcrowded Moria camp and demand that asylum procedures take place more speedily. The UNHCR has urged the Greek government to address the poor conditions in migrant camps. The camp is meant to house 3,000 people but is currently home to about 20,000. Police used excessive force, including tear gas and flash grenades, against protesters, including children. Police arrested 40 people.

Emergency measures affect migrant protests

As of 23rd March 2020 all non-essential transport and movement of people in Greece has been prohibited by the government due to the Corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic. People can only go to work, shop for food or medicine, visit a doctor, walk their pet and exercise with a maximum of one other person. They must always carry an ID with them and a document that attests to their reason for being outside.

On 24th of March 2020, Greece’s new president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou said in a televised address to the nation that the suspension of rights and freedoms is due to the extraordinary risks to public health and social cohesion, but that these measures have an expiry date. She also praised the consensus among the country’s political forces amid the crisis.

The suspension of the right to gather outside means that people (citizens and asylum seekers) will no longer be able to protest in the coming weeks against the Greek government’s decision to suspend the asylum system or against the conditions in the shattered and overcrowded camps for asylum seekers on the Greek islands which could easily become a breeding ground for the Coronavirus.

Greek Public TV censors news on migrant crisis

In a statement, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned Greek public TV and radio broadcaster ERT for its censorship around the influx of refugees and asylum seekers on the islands and the creation of new migrant camps which have led to protests.

News reports about the islands and new migrant camps now require approval from regional management at ERT. This comes after a reporter posted an article about the violent clashes which broke out between riot police and residents of the Greek island Lesbos over migrant camps. Management asked that the article be removed from the website. There is now a new policy in place which states that permission is needed before publishing.

The ERT management’s censorship of journalists working at the front line of the migrant crisis must stop. In view of the scale and intensity of the anti-migrant clashes on several Greek islands, it is essential that local journalists are able to cover incidents freely and provide the Greek public with full and transparent reporting,” - RSF editor-in-chief Pauline Adès-Mével.