Several boats carrying refugees tried to cross from Turkey to the Greek Aegean island of Lesvos on 2 April.
In at least five incidents, more than 200 people were stopped and pushed back by the Hellenic coast guard, as previously reported by Aegean Boat Report.
Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, made a public statement, in which he accused the Turkish coast guard and Turkish Navy of “accompanying flimsy migrant boats to the border of Europe in an effort to provoke an escalation with Greece”, an accusation made without evidence.
The Turkish coast guard issued its own statement about these incidents, in which it blamed the Greek coast guard for illegal activities, and the Turkish government’s Deputy Interior Minister Mr. Catakli, speaking on behalf of his government, categorically denied Mitarachi’s allegations.
Both sides released videos supposed to prove their accusations: videos which did not prove their claims.
There are interesting elements in these videos, but for the most part they can only be seen as propaganda material to try to make the other side look bad.
But we don’t have to rely solely on these propaganda videos: not only did many people in these boats capture interesting and revealing footage on their phones, also a German TV crew from ZDF was onboard one of the Turkish coast guard vessels. Their report, especially their video, is highly interesting.
The Hellenic coast guard’s official report claimed none of the rubber boats managed to cross into Greek waters, but from the footage available this seems highly unlikely. First, we can see that both the Greek coast guard vessel PLS-080 (ΛΣ-080), and the RIB belonging to PLS-080 is driving dangerously close to and around several of the rubber boats trying to cross. It’s highly unlikely that they would operate and act like this inside Turkish waters.
Second, some footage shows some of the rubber boats only a few kilometres from land (Lesvos), so if not all, at least some of these boats clearly did reach Greek waters, which contradicts the Hellenic coast guard’s report.
In videos and pictures published by the Turkish coast guard, we can also see an Italian Frontex vessel, the 200/S-Class deep sea patrol boat CP-290, currently operating from Lesvos.
Next to the Italian Frontex vessel we can also clearly see a rubber boat with refugees. We have thoroughly investigated pictures and videos from multiple angles, and can confirm without any doubt that both the Frontex vessel and the rubber boat are inside Greek waters.
Frontex would not, unless there was a specific emergency, operate inside Turkish territory waters. At least some of the boats were clearly within Greek waters.
There are two interesting details within the Turkish coast guard’s statement that raise questions.
The Turkish coast guard reported that at 3.30am a rubber boat outside Lesvos south was picked up by the Hellenic coast guard vessel PLS-618 (ΛΣ-618), one of two Faiakas-class fast patrol crafts (FPCs) currently operated by the Hellenic Coast Guard and stationed on Lesvos.
This boat has been involved in numerous illegal pushbacks outside Lesvos, the latest reported by Aegean Boat Report on 19 February. In August last year an investigation was published on the Border Violence Monitoring Network, involving the boat in queastion.
In their report, the Turkish coast guard claims this incident on 2 April at 3.30am started as a pushback attempt, but the rubber boat was later picked up and taken towards Lesvos. Italian Frontex was reported to be present. This was also reported by the TV crew from ZDF filming onboard the Turkish coast guard vessel, making it more plausible that it in fact happened.
The question here is what happened to these people, allegedly picked up by HCG? We will return to this later.
At 7.00am, the Turkish coast guard reported that a rubber boat was intercepted by Italian Frontex (CP-290) and a Greek coast guard vessel (Lambro-57) outside Palios, north-eastern Lesvos. They report the passengers on this boat were picked up by the vessels from the Hellenic coast guard, and taken towards Lesvos.
From pictures and videos of the incident the rubber boat was picked up a few kilometres from land. There can be no doubt that it was inside Greek territory waters. We are left with the same question: what happened to these people?
Neither the 3am, or the 7am pick ups were reported as arriving on Lesvos, on 2 April or in the following days. They seems to have magically disappeared. On 2 April, 35 people were officially registered as arrived on Lesvos, so everything seems in order. But to understand that things are not as they seem, we need a bit more detailed information, of the kind the Greek government does not publish.
In the early morning, seven people were found by police walking towards Mytilíni harbour, and were taken to the quarantine camp in Kara Tepe. They claimed to have arrived by themselves in a rubber boat. Had they been picked up at sea by HCG, they would definitely not be walking alone towards Mytilíni harbour, so we can rule out that they had been picked up at sea.
Also on 2 April, a group of 28 people contacted Aegean Boat Report at first light after they had landed north west of Palios. Pictures and videos showed they had landed by themselves: they had not been picked up by HCG at sea.
They also explained that they did not see any boats when they approached land on Lesvos, so theirs clearly was not the boat we can see next to the Italian Frontex vessel. Twenty-eight people were registered in the quarantine camp in Megala Therma this day.
As previously mentioned, 35 people were officially registered as arriving at the camp on this day, and we have already ruled out that any of them were picked up by the Hellenic coast guard at sea.
It’s also important to mention that nobody was officially registered as arriving in the following days. So we must ask again: what happened to these people who were picked up by HCG?
The first case outside south Lesvos south is a bit difficult, because there’s no visible evidence besides the radar pictures published by ZDF. In the case later the same morning, outside north-east Lesvos, there are videos and pictures that clearly place the rubber boat next to the Italian Frontex vessel inside Greek territory waters. Perhaps Frontex can explain what really happened here, because we know that the Greek coast guard will deny even being there, despite what we can clearly see in the video.
That people have a tendency to magically disappear after encountering Greek officials, is nothing new: this has been reported numerous times at the land border in Evros and the Aegean Sea border for years.
The fact that Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, is reportedly deeply involved in these violations, seems to explain why EU is so reluctant to act against Greece on these violations, which are a systematic, illegal practice where international law and human rights are violated every single day, supported by Frontex.
If this had been taken seriously by the European Commission, they would have had no option but to pull Frontex out of Greece. Instead, they strengthen Frontex’s presence there, and arm its operatives.
It is also hard not to connect the EU’s reluctance to address illegal pushbacks in Greece to Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission’s statement in March 2020: “Greece is the shield of Europe”. This makes it seem as if anything goes as long as it is in the ‘interest’ of Europe (though in fact it is not: stripping the rights of Syrian teenagers, Afghan women, Iraqi men, and Congolese children, is also to strip the rights of every single person in Europe. Ourselves, our children, our brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents).
Another strange phenomenon are the mysterious rubber boats carrying masked men who have been reported to have violently attacked boats with refugees in the Aegean Sea for years. Previously, we have only seen glimpses of these boats in videos provided by refugees who have been victims of violent attacks at sea, but in the most recent video, it is clear that they are now operating in broad daylight.
In previous published investigations it has been proved without a doubt that these boats belong to the Hellenic coast guard, though this has of course been denied by the Greek government.
In videos from 2 April, we can clearly see a grey RIB, without any distinguishing marks, numbers or flag, carrying men not in uniform and wearing balaclavas, chasing boats filled with men women and children. The RIB is working closely with the Hellenic coast guard vessel PLS-080: the video shows it going back and forth from this vessel several times.
Also, in several videos we can clearly see that the RIB that usually is mounted on deck, as the RIB from PLS-080’s starboard side is missing. The RIB in the videos is identical to this missing RIB. The PLS-080 is a Saar IV class offshore patrol vessel. The Hellenic coast guard has three of these, ΛΣ-060, ΛΣ-070 and ΛΣ-080. They are all equipped with a one-engined orange Rescue RIB on Port side and a grey two-engined Pursuit RIB on starboard side.
All vessels in the Hellenic coast guard, including RIBs, are marked with an identification number and blue and white stripes. The RIBs also carry the identification mark of the vessel it belongs to. In this case, it should have been marked ‘ΛΣ-080 ’.
To see this unmarked RIB carrying four men wearing irregular clothing, faces covered, chasing flimsy rubber boats packed with unarmed people raises a lot of questions. Why is the identification markings on these boats removed? What could possibly be the explanation for that? Is it because these boats usually are used to carry out illegal operations under cover of darkness, and the coast guard doesn’t want them recognised?
But why would they then use these same boats in broad daylight, operating out of a vessel from the Hellenic coast guard? Normally officers in any coast guard, including Greece’s, wear uniforms on duty. The four men on this RIB, which belongs to the Hellenic coast guard, are not in uniform, wearing irregular clothing. Why? Is it so the coast guard might deny that the men onboard this RIB are coast guard personnel? So the Greek government could use ‘plausible deniability’ and claim no accountability for what is going on.
Also, why are the the men onboard this RIB covering or semi-covering their faces? To hide their identity? This is understandable, as they are breaking the law, but the Hellenic coast guard has previously said its personnel do not wear balaclavas or cover their faces on duty, but here we see men in dark irregular clothes, faces covered on a vessel belonging to the Hellenic Coast Guard. If not coast guard personnel, who are these people? It seems clear that we are dealing with a government which is systematically practicing illegal pushbacks on an industrial scale, violating international laws, regulations and international human rights on a daily basis.
And this is important. Greece should be sanctioned for these violations, and the people responsible should be behind bars.
But instead of sanctioning a EU member state for these authorities, we applaud them, give them billions in support and send armed Frontex personnel to assist them.
We seem to have lost touch with reality, forgotten our recent history. Not too long ago, fascism ruled Europe. We know what it ‘achieved’.
If anyone anywhere in the world tortured more than 10,000 people, we would without doubt call it a crime against humanity, and act accordingly. Greece has, since March 2020 tortured 11,567 people and counting. What have we done to stop this? Nothing.
This will forever be a stain on European history. When our grandchildren asked why it happened, and why we did not stop it, what will we say?