In the early hours of Saturday 3 April, a rubber boat started out from Balabanli, Ayvacik, carrying 27 people, 11 children and 16 adults, destination Lesvos north.
After several hours at sea in the dark, only 450 metres from land east of Megala Therma, Lesvos north, their engine started to malfunction, they contacted Aegean Boat Report for assistance. The time was 4.31am.
For almost an hour, the boat drifted slowly towards land, but at 5.20am a coast guard vessel arrived and stopped it. From videos, we have identified the boat as a Lambro-57 coastal patrol boat belonging to the Hellenic coast guard. But instead of rescuing the drifting refugees, they attached a rope to the rubber dinghy and started to tow it back out to sea. The time was now 5.49am.
In several videos and pictures provided by the refugees, we can see the vessel from the Greek coast guard towing the rubber boat. It’s dark but we can positively identify the vessel. “We were almost on land” they later explained, “we could see the beach when the Greek Coast Guard stopped us and forced us back to Turkey”, there is no doubt who was behind this illegal pushback.
The weather wasn’t good, and water was entering the rubber boat while it was being towed. The Greek Coast Guard decided transferred the passengers from the flimsy rubber dinghy to the coast guard vessel, punctured the rubber boat, and the remains of the boat and its engine were thrown in the sea. The refugees explained that the boat took them towards Turkey, and after a short while, they were forced into a life raft.
At 8.37 am Aegean Boat Report regained contact with the people from the boat, they were screaming on the phone, beginning to be rescued. Their position was now deep inside Turkish waters, and the Turkish coast guard was notified immediately.
While they were waiting to be rescued, they sent several voice messages and videos. The case is clear, and there is very little room for doubt about what happened to them, and who is responsible. Videos clearly show what happened, and their locations were sent both as regular and live location on Whatsapp.
After spending hours in the life raft, they were eventually found and rescued by the Turkish coast guard.
Why people trying to seek safety in Europe are tortured this way I can’t even begin to understand. What is driving humans to inflict so much suffering and pain upon others is beyond my comprehension. If this had been done to Europeans anywhere in the world, lawyers would have lined up, lawsuits against the people responsible would have tied them up in court for years, but for this and almost all of the hundreds of similar cases in the last year alone, not one single word is mentioned in any newspaper. It’s as if these people do not exist.
I wonder how the Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, would try to squirm out of this one. Probably by saying that they had not been inside Greek territory waters, just as he said for the seven pushback incidents on Friday, and that the Hellenic Coast Guard complies with all international laws and regulations, an is not involved in any pushbacks whatsoever. And yes, he would probably also argue, as he has before, that these ‘unfounded allegations’ about pushbacks carried out by the Greek government are lies told by smugglers and organizations losing money on the decrease in arrivals on the Greek Aegean islands. It’s actually quite sad to see a man making a fool out of himself, by continuing to deny what has been proven over and over again. It’s perhaps difficult to stop lying when you have lied for so long, and lost touch with reality.