In yet another shocking breach of international law, two children have been beaten, robbed and forced onto a rubber dinghy by Greek authorities, despite repeated government claims that it does not carry out ‘pushbacks’ of refugees from Greece to Turkey.
Two children were forcibly removed from Vathy refugee camp on Samos, and set adrift, alone, in a small rubber dinghy by the Hellenic Coast Guard.
Aegean Boat Report have documented the case, brought the case to GLAN and provided the majority of the evidence. ABR have investigated and provided documentation on pushbacks to media throughout Europe, this is the first case we have worked on that has been filed to the European Court Of Human Rights (ECtHR).
The complaint has now been filed with the European Court Of Human Rights (ECtHR) by Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), on behalf of one of these children.
At around 3.30am on 8 September, 18 people set out in a rubber boat from a remote beach in Kusadasi, Turkey, hoping to reach the Greek island of Samos. Almost three hours later, at 6.20am, the 12 adults and six children arrived on the rocky shore of Cape Praso, north-east Samos.
At 10am, they contacted Aegean Boat Report. The group was in a rocky remote area of the island, and needed assistance.
One, a pregnant woman, had leg injuries and the group contained several small children. As a result, they could not get out of the area without help.
Two boys aged 15 and 16, left the group to see if they could find and bring help.
After the group had documented their whereabouts with pictures, video and location data, Aegean Boat Report contacted Samos port police at 11.58 am, and gave them the location of the new arrivals, so they could be found and taken to the island’s closest quarantine camp.
Due to the remote area they arrived in, and difficult terrain, they had to be taken out of the area by boat, a requirement which would later prove disastrous for the new arrivals.
Aegean Boat Report had continuous contact with the new arrivals, following them on live location, and receiving regular location updates, videos and pictures while they were waiting to be found.
At 1.23pm they informed Aegean Boat Report that a boat, which they described as having a white top and grey bottom, had arrived.
At 1.33pm, they sent Aegean Boat Report pictures of the boat, which we identified as a Lambro-57 coastal patrol vessel, LS 604, belonging to the Hellenic coast guard, stationed on Samos.
The Lambro vessel was stationary, waiting because it didn’t have a rescue RIB onboard, and couldn’t go closer to shore because of the cliffs in the area.
After approximately 30 minutes a second boat, described as a larger vessel, with an orange top and blue bottom, arrived. We identified this as a Lambro Halmatic 60 lifeboat, SAR-513, belonging to the Hellenic coast guard, also stationed on Samos.
A red one-engine RIB was deployed from the SAR vessel, which went to the coastal patrol vessel, picked up two men, and then headed to shore at the location where the new arrivals were waiting.
The group was moved two at a time to the SAR vessel in the small red RIB, until 14 were aboard.
One of the men who came from the coastal patrol vessel was wearing civilian clothes, blue denim shorts and a white T shirt with what members of the group described as a police logo. He was angry, claimed that four people were missing, and asked where they had gone.
Nobody had told him the group had contained 18 people. The only way he could know this was from the information given to Samos’ port police by Aegean Boat Report.
The group also stated that the man was carrying a small backpack, had a short beard and two tattoos, one on his right hand and one behind his leg. One of the tattoos looked like a castle wall with doors, and in his backpack they saw a gun.
On a small island like Samos, a person working with or for the police with this description should be easy to locate.
The police then searched the area, and after an hour they returned with two people they had found. These people were threatened at gun point by the man described above, and had no choice but to obey his orders.
The 15 and 16 year-old boys who had left the group to find help, were not located.
Everyone who was taken aboard the Hellenic coast guard SAR vessel was told to hand over their ID papers and phones.
The officer described above, with the gun and tattoos, pulled an elderly woman across deck by her hair when he later discovered she had not handed over her phone.
After this everyone was forced strip, and were left standing in only their underwear. Even the women and children had to endure this inhuman, degrading treatment. Several phones and personal documents were confiscated. None were returned.
The phones’ owners were forced to give the officers the phones’ passwords.
On one phone, belonging to a man, they found the Watsapp communication with Aegean Boat Report. This once again angered the tattooed man, who took this phones’ owner to the back of the vessel and severely beat him. The assaulted man noted that the tattooed officer appeared to be filming him being beaten.
The last communication Aegean Boat Report received on Whatsapp from the new arrivals was a position sent at 2.37pm. This location was a position in the sea, 130 meters from the rocky cliffs of Cape Praso.
Live location was still active on this phone, and Aegean Boat Report tracked its position, as it moved first to the east, then back west off Cape Praso. The last updated location arrived at 3.12pm. After this the phone went offline, and contact was lost.
The Turkish coast guard (TCG) picked up and rescued 16 people from a life raft drifting outside Kusadasi, Turkey, the following day, 9 September, at 03.40am.
Several of the rescued people in the pictures published by TCG were the same as those in pictures and videos taken on Cape Praso, Samos. There is no doubt that they are the same people, and who put them in this potentially life treating situation.
From testimony taken by Aegean Boat Report the group explained they were on the Greek SAR vessel for more than eight hours, and when it got dark they were forced into the life raft. Those who attempted to resist, or hesitated, were thrown from the Greek vessel onto the raft.
The Hellenic Coast Guard left them drifting helplessly in the sea. They provided the group with no life vests, even for the children. The people, drifting, alone and with no life-protecting equipment, were extremely frightened.
A woman who had managed to hide a phone in the diaper of her small child, called TCG for help.
The group noted that the man with the tattoos was returned to the coastal patrol vessel by the small red RIB before the SAR vessel left the area. He appeared to be in charge, constantly talking on his phone, and seemed to be taking orders from someone else, perhaps the head of the Coast Guard in Samos, Dimitris Tsinias.
The two boys who had left the group to try to find help, observed from a hillside two vessels in the area where they arrived, and assumed that their traveling companions had been found and rescued.
From a distance they said that it was difficult to see the vessels clearly, but described one as white and the other orange.
The boys’ hike towards Samos town was difficult. It was very hot, they didn’t know the area and the terrain was rough.
In late afternoon they arrived in the hills above Vathy, close to something they described as ‘cellphone towers’. There, they took several pictures of themselves pointing down towards the Vathy refugee camp, with the town of Samos in the background. They were clearly on Samos.
It was getting dark when they arrived at the camp. They asked some people for food, and they were given water, tea and some food.
The people who gave them food also told the boys that they could stay in their tent until morning, so that they could register the following day.
The next morning, the boys went down to the food line, there they met three representatives of the UNHCR, two women and, they said, a ‘very big man’. All wore UNHCR vests.
Because the boys’ names were not on the camp’s list, they were not given food. They wanted to shower, and were directed to the showers by a man in the food line.
Coming out of the shower, at around 10am, they took a picture, and soon afterwards two men approached them, in civilian clothes, saying there were there to take them to register.
They did not identify themselves, but said they were responsible for registration in the camp. The boys think they were police officers.
They were taken to a location next to the food line, and into a place they described as ‘similar to a police station’.
Inside, they could see monitors, cameras, men wearing uniforms, carrying handcuffs and guns. This was the police station inside the Reception and Identification Center (RIC) in Vathy.
Picture 1 is the original pickture taken on the morning of Septhember 9th outside the showers inside the camp, pickture 2 and 3 is control picktures taken at a later state.
The officers in civilian clothes asked them what language they spoke, and the boys told them Dari. Soon, the men had a translator on the phone.
The boys where asked basic personal information – their age, nationality and who they were traveling with. They replied that they wanted to apply for asylum, they were 15 and 16 years old, from Afghanistan and that they were traveling alone. The officer conducting the interview then knew that they were unaccompanied minor asylum seekers, and in any case anyone who sees the boys can clearly see they cannot possibly be mistaken for adults.
It is extremely likely that the officers knew these were the two boys who had been missing from Praso the previous day, and that the group of 16 the boys had arrived with had already been forced back to Turkey by the Hellenic coast guard.
The officer who interviewed them frequently left the room to talk with someone, most likely a superior officer.
The boys spent around an hour in the police station, before they were told at around 11.15am that they would be taken to isolation for a few days, and afterwards released.
They were escorted out of the police station by a back door that led to the outside of the camp, and walked for about 10 minutes to a grey car, where two other men in civilian clothes, as well as one other on a motorcycle, were waiting.
The boys were told to get into the car. No information was given about where they were taking them, and the men in the car didn’t identify themselves, but the boys assumed that they also worked for the police.
They were driven towards Vathy port, with the motorcycle following behind. After no more than 10 minutes, the car began to pull in to a parking lot next to the harbour, but instead changed direction to drive further down the road.
The boys were ordered to keep their heads down and hide in the car’s back seat. They heard the men say something they believed was ‘organization’, and could see they seemed stressed.
The boys believed this was because of a car in the parking lot at the port, which they think belonged to an NGO, and that the police officers didn’t want members of this organisation to see the boys in their car.
They stopped the car and waited for a few minutes, until the ‘organisation’s’ car drove away, and the boys were driven to the port. The time was now around 12pm.
The boys were taken out of the car, and escorted onboard a white and grey vessel, which they immediately saw was a Greek coast guard vessel, and which was later identified from pictures as a Lambro-57 coastal patrol boat.
The vessel had a crew of around five people, all dressed in dark uniforms.
The officers searched the boys, and confiscated their mobile phones and money, before handcuffing the boys together.
The men told the boys to look down, and they slapped their faces several times while the boat headed out towards Turkey.
After a while, at around 1.30pm, the vessel stopped and a man inflated a small grey rubber dinghy, while another removed their handcuffs.
The latter man had a baton and threatened to beat the boys if they moved.
The boys were forced into the small rubber boat, without life vests, and left drifting by the Hellenic coast guard.
The Greek coast guard vessel sped away, as can be seen on a video obtained by Aegean Boat Report from a surveillance camera on the Turkish shore at Bayrakadasi. The time stamp on this video is 2pm.
The boat the boys had been left in had no engine, and they had to paddle with their hands to try to reach the Turkish shore.
The Hellenic coast guard left these two boys minors alone in a small rubber boat without life vests or any form of propellant, even though they knew they were only 15 and 16 years old.
Two boys were picked up from a small rubber boat outside Kusadasi on 9 September at 2.40pm, by the Turkish coast guard.
The pictures published by TCG clearly show these are the same boys as in the pictures they took on the hill above Vathy on Samos.
There is no doubt that they are the same people, and no doubt who these two minors, in this life-threatening situation, were.
The boys were taken to the police station in Aydin, where they met the group of 16 people who they had travelled with from Turkey to Samos, and who had been pushed back the previous day and picked up by TCG from a life raft.
The group of 18 people were taken to the Aydin Removal Centre, where they were held for nine days before being released.
Both cases – the 16 people being pushed back from Cape Praso, Samos, on 8 September, and the forced return of two boys from the Vathy, Samos, Reception and Identification Centre the following day, 9 September – were known to UNHCR and MSF.
UNHCR’s operatives on Samos had received detailed information regarding the return of the minors, but for some reason failed to report this to their organisational HQ in Athens. This failure to report a serious case involving two boys raises questions that perhaps need to be answered.
Equally, UNHCR’s office at Vathy camp is next door to the police station, so it is likely that at the very least, the three UNHCR representatives would have seen the boys taken into the police station.
MSF received information on the illegal return of the two minors, from the Reception and Identification Centre on Samos, from Aegean Boat Report on 11 September. They reported it to the competent authorities and UNHCR. What furter steps has been taken by MSF, if any, is unknown, so far no official statement has been issued by MSF.
These are two of an alarmingly-increasing number of cases documented by Aegean Boat Report which show that the Greek government is willing to cross any line, no matter the suffering they inflict on vulnerable innocent people, as long as they can push their political agenda further.
These pushbacks, along with hundreds more in the last year alone, are in direct breach of international law, EU law and even Greek law. The current Greek government appears to believe that none of these applies to it, and the EU has so far failed to react.
As long as they are not confronted on a political and legal level, the Greek government appears to be committed to continually breaking the law, and risking the lives of innocent men, women and children seeking safety.