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Pushback Nr. 451

On May 28, at around 6am, a boat that was reported to have been carrying 54 people, 37 adults and 17 children, landed north of Panagiouda, Lesvos south around 06.00.

It later became clear that in fact the boat had been carrying 49 people.

Boat carrying 49 people towards Lesvos 28.05.2021

Immediately after arrival, they split into two groups and hid in woods in the area, scared that they would be found by police and illegally returned to Turkey.

A farmer in the area spotted one of the groups early in the morning, and called the police. The police located 32 people, and took them away in the back of a white van.

None of these people were registered in the quarantine camps on Lesvos, either on 28 May or any subsequent day. “We were ordered to give away all our belongings, clothes, bags, phones and money, those who refused were beaten”, one of the group explained.

Everyone was searched, some more brutally and extensively than others, men, women and even children, they all got the same treatment. When the police found some phones the people had hidden, they got very angry, again hitting the people who had tried to hide the phones from them.

There were 12 port police officers present. Most of them were wearing masks, the ones without stayed at a distance.

A white van arrived and everyone was ordered into the back, leaving all their belongings behind. The back of the van had no windows.

The van drove for around five minutes, and arrived at a beach, when a similar white van arrived. The group was transferred into the second van – 32 people packed in, without any ventilation.

The next journey took more than an hour: “We didn’t get any food or water, not even the children or women”, the same person said. “It was a hot day.”

They arrived at another beach, the location of which they didn’t know. All they could see was trees and the sea.

After 30 minutes, they saw a big grey military vessel approaching. Two RIBs were launched, and moved quickly towards the beach, where the police stood over the people.

The men in the rescue RIBs searched everyone, again. These men were wearing dark blue uniforms, with no distinguishing features. They were wearing balaclavas and carrying guns.

The group was split in two, and placed on the RIBs, which moved at high speed towards the Greek coast guard vessel waiting a few kilometres from land.

The speedboats took them to a larger grey military vessel.

The group could not look at the boat properly, in part because if they looked up they were hit with batons from behind. The men in balaclavas constantly screamed: “Look down and shut up,” terrifying the men, women and children.

The group said the boat was grey, with blue and white stripes in the front, and carried the Greek flag.

Everyone was placed outside in the front of the boat, they were not allowed to talk or look up, the officers were constantly screaming, and those who didn’t obey were beaten again.

The coast guard vessel has not been positively identified, but after looking at several pictures, the group said it was similar to the Vosper Europatrol 250MK1 class offshore patrol vessel of the Hellenic coast guard.

They were onboard for several hours, in which time the Hellenic coast guard vessel took them towards Turkey.

When the boat stopped, they were forced into a life raft, and an RIB that was lowered from the coast guard vessel was used to tow the life raft into Turkish waters.

At 1pm, the Turkish coastguard found the life raft, with the 32 people aboard, drifting close to Cesme, Turkey. The people onboard said they had been drifting for two hours.

These people had been forcibly removed from Lesvos, left drifting in a life raft in the Aegean Sea, illegally deported by the Hellenic coast guard.

The second group of people – the 17 who were not illegally pushed back from Lesvos to Turkey – walked to Panagiouda, and were found by police around 2pm. Several local people had seen them next to the main road and called the police.

The police transported the 17 people, 4 adults and 13 children, to the quarantine camp in Maurovouni.

From pictures and videos taken from the boat before they arrived on Lesvos, we can clearly see that it carried considerably more than 17 people.

There is also no doubt that they arrived on land on Lesvos, since seventeen of the people from the boat are now in the quarantine camp on Lesvos.

But the rest – 32 people – are back in Turkey. From pictures and videos taken from the boat that arrived on Lesvos, Aegean Boat Report have identified several people who also appear in the footage published later by the Turkish coast guard, of the group they picked up on the life raft outside Cesme. There is no doubt that these are the same people.

Life raft carrying 32 people rescued by Turkish coast guard.

There is also no doubt who is behind this illegal deportation.

We say increasingly often that these pushbacks are illegal. This is true under international law, to which Greece is a signatory. It is true under EU law, which Greece as a member state has also signed up. It is also true under Greek law, as the Greek government is well aware.

We cannot and will not state that this is connected to pushbacks, but it is extremely interesting to note that as increasing numbers of Greek and international organisations, the EU Council, the United Nations and the independent Greek Ombudsman demand that the Greek government at least allows the legal system to hear cases of alleged pushbacks of men, women and children by uniformed Greek officers, the Ministry of Migration issued on Tuesday a memo threatening any Ministry employee not to testify in court in any hearing related to alleged Ministry wrongdoing.

We do not know whether or when these extremely serious and important allegations will be heard by the Greek judiciary, but we do note with concern that it is illegal to threaten witnesses to prevent them testifying in court.

We hope that should any cases be heard, the court will dismiss the memo, and allow legal due process to take place.

Any alternative would be not only to undermine the fundamental rights of every person on Earth – as is being done every time a pushback is carried out – but also the legal rights and protections of the Greek public, and indeed the very foundations on which the Greek state is built.

These are som of the people who was illegaly pushed back from Lesvos on May 28 by the Hellenic Coast Guard, picture is taken in Izmir, Tyrkey May 30. It`s not statistics or numbers, It`s real people.

Some of the pushback victims May 30, Izmir, Turkey.

It MUST be stopped!

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