In yet another shocking breach of international law, men, women and children have been beaten, robbed and forced onto a life raft by Greek authorities, despite repeated government claims that it does not undertake ‘pushbacks’ of refugees into Turkey. Thirteen men, women and children were forcibly removed from a refugee camp in Lesvos on Wednesday night by uniformed operatives, who claimed the refugees were being taken to be tested for COVID-19. Instead, they were forced into an isobox, repeatedly beaten with batons, stripped of their possessions and forced into the sea on an inflatable life raft.
On Wednesday night (17th February 2021) at around 19.00 EET, a boat carrying 13 people – 5 children, 3 women and 5 men – landed east of Eftalou, in northern Lesvos. They came ashore and walked into the woods to avoid being seen by people, because they were afraid of being found and pushed back to Turkey by the Hellenic coast guard.
At 20.00, they contacted Aegean Boat Report on Whatsapp for help. It was a cold night and the children were freezing so the group needed to find shelter. At 20.10 they sent both their live location and regular location on Whatsapp, which showed they were just 300 meters from the quarantine camp in Megala Therma, Lesvos.
At 20.18 the new arrivals were sent the camp’s location, and directions to it from their position. At first, they were scared of the police, but they decided to listen to the advice they were given, and walked to the camp. Infuriatingly and unforgivably, in light of what happened next, the refugees were proven correct to mistrust the Greek port police to accept and protect their rights as human beings.
At 21.15, the 13 people arrived outside the Megala Therma camp, where they were met by that night’s port police duty officers, were told to wait inside the camp, while one officer made a phone call on his mobile phone. While the officer made this call, camp residents gave the new arrivals blankets and raisins, because the 13 were freezing and no support was provided by the police. At this point, the new arrivals were inside the camp, and the women and children used the toilets. This detail is important, because what happened next means these people were removed by force from a camp managed by the Greek Ministry of Migration, and illegally deported.
When the officer returned, he told the new arrivals they were going to be taken to be tested for COVID-19, which camp residents who overheard found odd, because this is not usually done at night. On Wednesday evening there where 29 residents in the quarantine camp, so there are many witnesses of their arrival and later removal by police. There is no doubt that the 13 people later deported were inside Megala Therma camp.
Aegean Boat Report has obtained a detailed description of the two officers on duty that night, and in coordination with a shift protocol from the port police, it would be fairly easy to determine the identity of these two officers in any official investigation.
Police told the new arrivals to hand over their phones. They had eight phones between them, but at this stage they only handed three to the police. The officers then demanded that they walk west on the dirt track, but the people refused. They didn’t trust the police, because residents in the camp had told them that testing was not performed at night. The police insisted and the 13 people, five of them children, did not feel they could resist officer carrying guns.
They walked for about 15 minutes, and arrived at a small white container. They were told to wait outside the container, and about 30 minutes later an officer arrived with a key and locked them inside. When they had calmed down enough, they wrapped the children in blankets, helped them to sleep, and at 22.36 EET, made a video which they sent, along with their location, to Aegean Boat Report.
Local residents in the area confirm that police have placed a white container/Isobox next to the dirt track in this exact location, and the video sent by the new arrivals from inside the container, combined with the location sent at the same time, confirm that this was where they were locked up.
After about one hour, a black or dark blue van arrived, and four men wearing unmarked dark blue or black, seemingly military, uniforms and balaclavas, and carrying batons entered the container shouting. The refugees, particularly the children, were very frightened, and the uniformed men screamed “Get up! Get up!” and hit people with batons to force them to stand. They immediately frisked them one by one, even the children, and stole their belongings, bags, money and three of the remaining mobile phones. The refugees report that the men paid particular attention to the women, putting their hands in private areas by force, which was especially humiliating, a violation which they were powerless to prevent. The officers next forced the men, women and children one by one into the back of the van like cattle. Those who resisted were again beaten with batons.
The refugees said it felt like they had travelled for hours in the van, but it was difficult to get a real feeling of time in their situation. When they eventually arrived, they were taken out of the van, each struck 2-3 times with batons and ordered to look at the ground. Those who didn’t were beaten again. They had arrived in a port, made of concrete, which had floodlights, a fence, and a flat roofed square building. But as they were beaten every time they tried to look around, it was hard for them to be certain about their surroundings. From their description, travel time from the container, and the travel time in the boat to the point they were abandoned in a life raft, it’s fairly certain that the port is the Schengen port in Petra, north-east Lesvos, which has been used frequently in the last months for illegal deportations by the Hellenic coast guard. (Another Proven Pushback!)
In similar previous cases, people have been taken from the port in large vessels, but this time they were put on a small boat, described by the refugees as a grey rubber speedboat with two engines and a four-man crew. They were placed in the front of the boat, which was piloted by one crew member in its centre. The boat described is almost certainly a Lambro coastal patrol RIB used by the Hellenic coast guard, usually to help people in distress. The five children, three women and five men were forced onto this RIB by four men in the same dark military uniforms and balaclavas as those who had robbed, beaten and forced them into a van. The refugees could not say if they were the same four men who had picked them up and beaten them at the container, but they, too, beat the men, women and children as they forced them into the RIB, ordering them to “look down”.
They were travelling in the boat for less than 30 minutes, including a short stop close to a large grey vessel, after only 10 minutes. One of the officers spoke on the radio with the large vessel in a language the refugees thought was Greek, and was certainly not English. They described the vessel as grey with blue and white stripes on the front – a description which matches the appearance of the Hellenic Coast Guard vessels which patrol the border area.
The boat stopped after approximately 30 minutes, and then an orange tent shaped inflatable life raft was cast over the side. One of the officers went into the raft and put up a small light inside, then the officers pushed the people into the raft one by one. This took only a few minutes, and as soon as all 13 people had been forced into the raft, the boat with the Greek officers left the men, women and children alone, in the dark, helplessly drifting in the sea. Not one of the people – even the children – in the life raft were given life jackets, and sea water had already found its way into the life raft.
At 01.29, they a video was sent to Aegean Boat Report, showing the people inside the life raft. Soon after, alone, cold, tired, powerless, and vulnerable, the refugees began to panic. Using one of the phones they had managed to hide when they were robbed by the uniformed officers, they called the Turkish coast guard.
Aegean Boat Report received a third video the following day, this time from inside a bus, and a location that showed they were heading towards Ayvacik, Turkey.
This video is of the same people in the video from the container on Lesvos, and from the life raft helplessly drifting in the Aegean Sea.
And there is absolutely no doubt who is responsible for their illegal deportation. Despite the fact that the Greek government continues to claim to follow all international laws and regulations.
Last week, the minister of asylum and immigration, Notis Mitarachis, once again denied claims that Greece is pushing refugees back to Turkey, calling the allegations “fake news,” and claiming they are part of a strategy promoted by Turkey. For some reason he has not chosen to explain this strategy. (Greek migration minister calls allegations of migrant pushbacks ‘fake news’)
And yet, even as Mitarachis and his government continues to make these claims, more and more people are illegally set adrift in the Aegean Sea, having been forcibly removed from refugee camps, beaten, stripped of their possessions, and forced onto inflatable rafts by uniformed people operating in Greece.