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The illegal Practice Continues

In the early hours of Sunday 16 May, a rubber boat set out from Cumhuriyet, Seferihisar, Turkey, carrying 32 people, nine children, seven women and 16 men.

After several hours at sea, they approached the island of Samos. In the videos they sent us, we can clearly see Samos in the background.

Samos 16.05.2021

While approaching the island, they took several videos and sent them to Aegean Boat Report, to try to document their arrival on Samos.

Samos 16.05.2021

At 7.30am, they landed on Kouroudere beach, east of Ag. Nikolaos, Samos north west. From the pictures, videos and location data, there is no doubt that the group arrived on Samos.

Samos 16.05.2021

Shortly after they landed, several cars with police officers arrived. They all pulled on balaclavas, before heading down towards the group. A witness counted 11 officers: 10 men and one woman.

Everyone in the group was forcibly frisked, and the police seized their personal belongings, papers, money and phones. Those who resisted were brutally beaten by uniformed officers, according to one of the new arrivals.

After everyone was thoroughly searched, the officers put the travellers into a white van, and drove for over one hour, to an unknown destination. There was no window in the back of the van, and no food or water were provided, not even for the small children.

They arrived in a port, and the only thing they could see was a concrete pier, and an orange and blue boat with the number 513 written on the side. One said that he could see many houses in the distance, but he was forced to look down by the police. When anyone looked up, the officers beat the people with batons.

They were pushed onto a boat, which moved quickly out to sea.

The people were placed in the front of the boat, outside, and anyone who tried to talk or who raised their head was beaten. The officers onboard were standing above the people, guarding them, all wearing balaclavas. There was a lot of shouting to keep people quiet, and one man described it as ‘terrifying’, especially for the small children, who cried because they couldn’t understand what was happening: how could they?

 Lambro Halmatic 60, SAR vessel Nr 513, belonging to the Hellenic coast guard, stationed on Samos

After a period that seemed like an hour, the boat stopped. Something was happening at the back of the boat, but the people weren’t able to see what. Two men came to the deck and shouted “get up, get up!” Everyone did as they were told. One by one, they were taken in the back of the boat. ‘We could hear officers shouting and women and children screaming,’ the man said. ‘It was a true nightmare.’

The people were forced into a strange tent-shaped rubber “boat”. Anyone who refused to get in was brutally beaten, and thrown in. They said that they could only see five officers on deck, in dark blue uniforms and balaclavas, but there were probably more people inside.

‘In only a few minutes, the Greek ship went away,’ the man explained. ‘We were left drifting in the sea. I was scared, everyone was. We had no phones and we couldn’t call for help.’

Later that day, two life rafts carrying 32 people, nine children, seven women and 16 men, were picked up by the Turkish coast guard south west of Seferihisar, Turkey. From videos and pictures, there is no doubt these are the same people who earlier that day had arrived on Samos.

In this video, published by the Turkish coast guard, we can see a Lambro Halmatic 60, SAR vessel Nr 513, belonging to the Hellenic coast guard, stationed on Samos. They deploy two life rafts filled with 32 people, many of them small children, and leave in great haste.

Video from TCG 16.05.2021 Seferihisar, Turky

So how can the Greek government continue to deny having any involvement in pushbacks, when we have seen vessels from the Hellenic Coast Guard, over and over again, actively and illegally deporting men, women and children in the Aegean Sea?

It’s time for European politicians to take off their blindfolds, it’s time to see that what is going on on the borders of Europe is a crime against humanity. To say “we didn’t know” is no longer an option. We must stop pretending that this doesn’t concern us, that’s it’s “their” rights that are being violated, not ours.

The Hellenic coast guard performing illegal pushbacks in the Aegean Sea

It is an attack on us all: when a government strips a Somali teen, a Syrian child, an Iraqi man, an Afghan woman of their human rights, you have to know they are reserving the right to do the same to you, to your son, daughter, brother, sister, parents, grandfather and grandmother.

Those rights belong to us all: once they are taken from one of us, they can be taken from us all. It must stop. We cannot simply turn a blind eye to this – the disgrace of Europe. Instead, we must stand, together, and demand better: from our governments, from the EU, from the international community.

The Greek government must stop pretending to ‘know nothing’ about a practice which is clearly its policy. It must stop pretending that every NGO operating in Greece, as well as the UN, international media and the European Council’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, are in fact somehow ‘employees of’ or collaborators in, Turkish ‘propaganda’.

It must, immediately – as Greece’s Ombudsman has concluded and demands – open public and accessible investigations into the actions of its own uniformed officers in illegally expelling men, women and children seeking decent places to live.

It must end this shameful, illegal, dehumanising, embarrassing and unacceptable practice.

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