At 9am on 26 April, a boat carrying 53 people landed on Agios Theodorous beach, east of Korakas, in north Lesvos. Thirty-five of the 53 travelling people were reported to be children. The group contacted Aegean Boat Report so their arrival could be documented.
They reported no medical needs, and because of this and the Greek government’s policy of illegally pushing men, women and children away from Greece’s borders, we did not inform the port police.
Instead, we advised the group to move together towards the village of Klio, so the villagers could see their arrival. Pictures, videos and location data received by the Aegean Boat Report show their presence on Lesvos: there is no doubt they arrived.
Due to the high number of very small children in the group, and three pregnant women, they moved slowly forward. They frequently sent their location, and they could also be followed on live location that was active. We received their pictures and videos while they moved towards the village.
A local person saw the new arrivals while walking towards Klio, and informed the port police of their whereabouts. Those police found the first people from the group on a dirt track at around 13.30, and from then it took them around one hour to round up all the 53 arrivals.
The police told the group they would be taken to a quarantine camp for COVID testing. Information from the arrivals had been sent to us from six different phone numbers. Between 13.37 and 14.23, all went offline. This could of course be a coincidence: they might all have run out of battery, or lost internet coverage. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The port police officers confiscated all their phones, so the group could not record what was about to happen.
We monitored quarantine camps’ information on arrivals, to see if the police had taken them to quarantine in Megala Therma or Kara Tepe. No information was registered during the afternoon or the following night. At this point, it was still possible that the port police on Lesvos had no plans to take them to the quarantine camp, as indeed they should have done.
A port police bus, filled with men, women and children thought by the observer to be refugees, was seen driving through Klio. The observer, a resident of the village, said he had seen this bus many times before, and it was used to transport new arrivals to the camps.
The bus was escorted by two police cars. The observer was unsure where it went.
The people on the bus, however, reported that they were taken to a port., where they were forced on a grey military vessel. Those who refused were beaten by men in dark uniforms wearing black balaclavas.
It was dark when the vessel set out, and after what seemed to be hours the boat stopped, and everyone was forced into a huge life raft. Once again, those who did not go willingly were beaten.
One man, a father with two small children, described the situation as ‘unreal’: ‘Children and women were screaming,’ he said. ‘People were beaten by men in uniform, who looked like commandos. Some of them were behaving like savages, it was a true nightmare.’
After hours drifting at sea, the group was found and rescued by the Turkish coast guard north of Kusadasi, Turkey.
The Turkish coastguard reported that ‘more than 30’ of the people on the boat were children, while pictures and videos we received while the group was on Lesvos, confirms it included many children. When we compare pictures from Lesvos with the pictures provided by the Turkish coast guard, of the moment they were found in the life raft drifting north of Kusadasi, there is no doubt it’s the same group.
And yet despite the clear evidence, which also proves that the group was on Lesvos, port police will no doubt once again claim they have ‘no knowledge’ of anyone arriving in this area, and anyone claiming otherwise are ‘pushing fake news’. We would simply ask how they can explain the pictures, geolocation data or testimonies.
It’s difficult to believe that any reasonable people could find it in their hearts to drag more than 30 children back out to sea and dump them in life rafts in the dark, but this is the reality: this happened and as in so many cases before it, we have the evidence.
Whenever confronted with these documented facts, Greek officials deny having anything to do with it, ‘it wasn’t us, our coast guard is acting according international laws and regulations,’ they say.
We know this is incorrect. That at best they are being deliberately kept in the dark about their own uniformed officers’ activities, and at worst, they are deliberately lying. But it seems as if, increasingly, no-one cares. It’s almost as if they think ‘it’s not Europeans, it’s not our people, so who cares?’
And the Greek government simply continues to deny any involvement in these atrocities.
A few days ago the Greek minister of migration and asylum, Notis Mitarachi once again said: ‘our country guards it’s maritime borders with full respect for international law, and everyone knows that.’
But who does he mean when he says ‘everyone’? Everyone who pays any attention, who is there or knows people who are, knows he’s lying.
Since March 2020, 231 life rafts have been found drifting in the Aegean Sea: not one of them came from a shipwreck. The Greek government claims it is the victim of Turkish propaganda, that organisations, international newspapers and TV stations are all tools of the Turkish government: it’s obviously not the case.
The Greek government dismisses thousands of victim statements, pictures and videos filmed by the refugees themselves showing vessels from the Hellenic coast guard performing these violations, as ‘fake news’.
We must ask how far the Greek government can go and still get away with it. More worryingly, how far are they willing to go?
What will it take to wake the rest of Europe up? One dead child did not do it, four men handcuffed and left to drown by the Greek coastguard did not do it, so what could possibly happen? What are we prepared to accept?
One of these days we will have a major accident with these life rafts, would pictures of dead children tangled up in ropes from these life rafts be enough to wake EU politicians up?
These violations of international law and human rights has been going on for far too long, blessed and financed by Europe. NATO and FRONTEX have massive presence in the Aegean Sea. It is impossible that they do not know what is happening here. So, when will someone do something? For how long is Greece going to be allowed to carry out these unjustified, illegal, and dangerous acts, and for how long will the EU and the rest of the world pretend not to see it?
Please share this with your friends, let them know what is happening on Europe’s ‘doorstep’. And if you want to help, please contact your representative in Europe, with letters/e-mails available from: https://www.koraki.org/end-pushbacks