In a heated exchange Dutch journalist Ingeborg Beugel called Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis a liar and narcissist and went on to accuse Greece of the illegal pushback of seafaring asylum seekers.
The interaction took place during a joint press conference with Mr Mitsotakis and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, following their meeting in Athens last Tuesday.
Ms Beugel asked: “Prime Minister Mitsotakis, when, at last, will you stop lying? Lying about pushbacks, lying about what is happening with the refugees in Greece?”
Mr Mitsotakis was clearly irritated by the question and responded: “I understand that in the Netherlands you have a culture of asking direct questions to politicians, which I very much respect. What I will not accept is that in this office you will insult me or the Greek people with accusations and expressions that are not supported by material facts.”
Greece is a signatory to the UNHCR 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. It recognises the right of refugees to seek asylum if there is threat of persecution in their country of origin.
Mr Mitsotakis expressed that Greece deserved praise for saving “hundreds, if not thousands” of people at sea.
“Rather than putting the blame on Greece, you should put the blame on those who have been instrumentalising migration systematically, pushing people in [a] desperate situation from a safe country, because I need to remind you that people in Turkey are not in danger,” he said. Mr Mitsotakis was clearly expressing his continuing concern with the Turkish government’s conduct which he has characterised as nothing more than weaponizing the plight of asylum seekers in order agitate and frustrate the Hellenes.
Ms Beugel, 61, a freelance correspondent for a Dutch media outlet that periodical lived on the Greek island Hydra was arrested this year on 13 June accused of “facilitating the illegal stay of a foreigner in Greece.”
Her court date is yet to be set after it was postponed due to coronavirus restrictions. She was arrested after islanders alerted police to the whereabouts of a 23-year-old asylum seeker from Afghanistan. He had been staying with Ms Beugel while appealing against an adverse asylum decision.
Ms Beugel said that the asylum seeker’s originating application for asylum in Greece was rejected because of translation problems at his interview.
“He’s been unable to get an appointment with the Greek asylum service. He’s been calling for months and hasn’t received an answer,” Ms Beugel said.
“Several angry islanders had called them [the police] saying that I had a ‘suspect’ relationship with an ‘illegal’ in my house.”
The Afghani asylum seeker fled Kabul. His father and uncle were killed by the Taliban, and arrived in Lesbos in 2015, Ms Beugel said.
“He has had two asylum applications rejected because in July 2017 when he had to tell his story to the Greek Asylum Service, he got a translator who wrote his story wrong in Greek. It took years to correct that wrongdoing, and he is now entitled to another attempt,”
In 2017 in an analogous case, Cedric Herrou, a French national, was convicted and sentenced to four months in prison. Mr Herrou was also fined 3,000 euros for sheltering asylum seekers. He was acquitted on appeal in 2020.
The former SYRIZA finance minister and academic Yanis Varoufakis, piped up soon after claiming “the good name of Greece” had been insulted by the “crimes” being committed by the Greek coastguard, government, and other EU countries with the support of Frontex, the EU border agency, in the Aegean. Frontex is an acronym for the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, headquartered in Warsaw, Poland.
According to EU Regulation 1896/2019, Frontex is bound to support the Member States and Schengen Associated Countries in providing post-arrival and reintegration assistance to non-EU nationals returning to their countries of origin.