The “Spiegel” has taken four reports about refugees in Greece offline – there were doubts about their truthfulness. Now the Greek government is celebrating itself for its protest against the “Spiegel”.

It is a remarkable step: Der Spiegel has taken four reports about refugees in Greece offline. “Doubts about the previous description” have arisen, it is said (FOCUS online reported). The Greek government is now celebrating itself for its protest against the “mirror” and is following up on FOCUS online.

The “Spiegel” reports were about a group of 38 refugees who were stuck for several weeks on a small island in the Evros border river between Turkey and Greece, which was constantly changing in size due to the current.

The “Spiegel” claimed that the island was completely Greek territory, so Greece should have intervened, which did not happen. In the reports that appeared in early August, the magazine also reported on a five-year-old girl who is said to have died helpless after being stung by a scorpion.

The Greek government took action against this representation. With a letter available to FOCUS online, the Greek migration minister Notis Mitarachi personally addressed the “Spiegel” editor-in-chief on September 19 and demanded “immediate steps”.

Mitarachi won first. “Der Spiegel has withdrawn the reports in question, which honors him,” he said when asked by FOCUS online. “There was never a dead child. So there was no child seriously injured by a scorpion sting,” he says. This was confirmed by investigations by Greek officials.

The photos and videos taken by the refugees on the island only show the 38 people who were finally registered in Greece on August 15. There does not appear to be a photograph of the child in question, nor was the child identified by the parents upon arrival in Greece. First, on August 16, Mitarachi indicated that he would search for the child and have the body recovered for a dignified burial.

According to Mitarachi, he has made further attempts to find out more about the girl. He asked the parents of the allegedly dead child to authorize him to have the child’s body recovered via the international Red Cross. According to the Migration Ministry, this power of attorney was never given.

The ministry also urged the parents to issue power of attorney for a civil registration request in Syria, the alleged child’s country of origin. This too was fruitless.

Another indication that the girl did not exist: the 38 refugees had submitted an urgent application to the European Court of Human Rights through the organization “Human Rights 360°” while they were stuck on the island and demanded their rescue. In this application, the personal details of all 38 people who were finally rescued are given, an entry for the allegedly deceased girl is missing.

The NGO “Human Rights 360°” publicly stated afterwards that it had made a mistake regarding the location of the refugees and that they were not on Greek territory at the time in question. In his letter, the Migration Minister accused Der Spiegel of merely relying on information from this organization. The NGO left a request from FOCUS online unanswered.

For Minister Mitarachi, however, the matter with the “Spiegel” withdrawal is not over. He sees a real campaign against his country. And so he launched a violent attack on the magazine and other media that had reported similarly. “In August, our country fell victim to an organized media attack,” he says. He does not name any evidence for this accusation, but recognizes “a coordinated effort by the domestic and European left, but also by the left-wing media, so that Greece opens its borders again. This is neither the position of Greece nor of the European Union and therefore it will not become one His press spokesman adds and condemns left-wing forces as well as the extreme right-wing for their criticism of the Greek refugee policy.

These are quite sweeping statements that have a stale aftertaste. After all, the way Greece has dealt with refugees in recent years has caused a great deal of resentment in the EU. There were serious allegations of illegal pushbacks at the Greek border, in which the European border protection force Frontex is said to have been involved. This led to the resignation of Frontex boss Fabrice Leggeri in spring 2022. Another current accusation: the Greek refugee shelters are being turned into “prisons” and the humanitarian situation is bad. None of this is a problem for the right-wing in Greece, they are demanding even more rigorous, brutal border protection to deter refugees.

This pressure doesn’t seem to be having any effect. Minister Mitarachi proudly refers to statistics showing that Greece is now keeping its borders closed. His ministry has improved the infrastructure and is ready to “come up with a flare-up of the phenomenon”.

He said he had “repeatedly stated that the migration issue will never end”. It was explosive and “it will take place in every period with different intensity and depending on geopolitical and climatic conditions.” The minister claims that “smugglers but also sometimes Turkish authorities” organize the groups of refugees.

Tensions have recently increased between Greece and Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened an invasion, saying “we can come at night”. Turkey challenges Greek sovereignty over islands in the Aegean Sea. Gas deposits were found in the sea, which have become a bone of contention.

Mitarachi therefore does not want to risk sending Greek security forces to Turkish territory in a humanitarian rescue operation. That’s why Greece couldn’t do anything to save the group in July and August, he says. “In view of all this, had Greece followed calls to violate Turkey’s borders for humanitarian reasons, it could have provoked a major geopolitical incident.”

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He commemorates an incident that took place in 2018 on the same Greek-Turkish border on the Evros. Two Greek soldiers briefly entered Turkish territory during a night patrol and were arrested. They were held for five months on suspicion of espionage.

The border region is now a restricted military area. Journalists are usually denied access there. But they can no longer get into the refugee camps as easily as they did under the previous left-right populist government. For Mitarachi, this is progress. “The era of Moria and Idomeni is irretrievably over.” He is playing on the catastrophic situation in the refugee camps in these two places over the past few years.

Greece now has 34 modern facilities that offer refugees and migrants decent living conditions while ensuring a sense of security for themselves and local communities, the minister stressed, despite criticism. “In 2020 there were still 121 camps that did not meet these requirements.” His ministry would not hinder journalists, he explains. However, he insists on “compliance with ethical rules”. That applies to both sides, however.