Have We Learned Nothing From Our Previous Mistakes?

In the early hours of Saturday, 20 November, a boat carrying 34 people landed north east of Ákra Agreliós, Lesvos south. Immediately after arriving, the group hid in the woods in the surrounding area, afraid that if found by police, they would return them illegally to Turkey.

At 04.45 they contacted Aegean Boat Report for assistance, asking for help, they had nobody they could trust, and asked for advice on how to be taken to a camp, they wanted to apply for asylum.

In the following hours they provide pictures, videos, voice messages and location data, to document their presence on Lesvos, there was no doubt that they in fact was on the island.

At 10.31 the Greek Helsinki Monitor sent an email to the authorities, UNHCR, the Greek Ombudsman and NGOs to inform of their presence, and that the new arrivals wanted to apply for asylum. Their location was not reviled, to avoid that they were found by police and removed from the island, hopefully someone would intervene, unfortunately this did not happen.

Throughout the day and afternoon Aegean Boat Report had contact with the group, they had now split up, only 19 people, 4 children, 5 women and 10 men remained from the original 34, where the remaining 15 people had gone they didn’t know.

At 21.30 the group started moving north, away from a location they found to be unsafe, due to the inhabitants close to their hideout. Walking in the woods in the dark, is difficult, especially when you do not know the area, and can’t use any lights in fear of being spotted by police.

The group walked most of the night, and at first light they contacted Aegean Boat Report again, this time, at 06.45 on Sunday morning, gave a new location, this time south west of Agrilia Kratigou. The group had found five people who had left them the day before, now they were 23 people, 4 children, 4 women and 15 men. One of the women in the group had left at night in the dark, leaving her child behind, she was not seen again.

Throughout Sunday the group walked north until they found a dirt track south west of the Airport at 20.30. They started following this road west, and at 22.42 Aegean Boat Report received a new location, this time close to the Church Ekklisia Panagia Amáli.

Aegean Boat Report had tried to advise them not to walk further away from populated areas, from the first time they made contact. We firmly believe that their best chances to avoid illegal pushbacks, is to be seen by locals. This group constantly did the opposite of what we advised them to do, to scared to even trust the people they had asked to help them. Now they were in the middle of the woods, far away from the eyes of the public, and by doing so in more danger than ever before.

The church is a well known landmark on Lesvos, and they sent several pictures of them in front of the Church, it would now be extremely difficult to deny their presence on the island, or impossible. If found and returned illegally, it would be difficult for local authorities to say that they had found no people at this church, nevertheless they did.

At Monday morning, November 22, 06.20, Aegean Boat Report spoke with the group. They were hiding in the woods close to the church, they could see a car pulling up in front of the church, they believed it was the police. At 07.09 all contact with the group was lost, and the phones haven’t been turned on since.

After several days on Lesvos, hiding in the woods, with no support, no food and water, we hoped that the group had been found with the intention to take them to a safe place, provide support and be given the opportunity to apply for asylum, unfortunately this didn’t happen.

At 03.55 am, on November 23, the Turkish coast guard found and rescued 23 people, 4 children, 4 women and 15 men from a life raft drifting outside Seferihisar, Turkey. They all claimed to have been on Lesvos for several days, before being arrested by Greek police and taken back out to sea.

From one single picture published by the Turkish coast guard, we can positively identify 12 people from the group that had arrived on Lesvos on November 20, this was the group we had followed for two days.

Comparing pictures, identifying people, is many times difficult and time consuming, often because of the quality of the material provided. This time it was actually quite straight forward, due to the fact that the group had constantly sent pictures of themselves and their surroundings.

From the group of 34, 23 people, men, women and children had been forcibly removed from a Greek island, robbed of all belongings, bags, papers, money and phones, taken onboard a Greek coast guard vessel and left drifting in a life raft by the Hellenic coast guard. To be able to perform these atrocities the Greek coast guard would need a special kind of people, cruel and sadistic, without remorse, the kind of people who we thought we never would see again in Europe after the Second World War, but her we are again, it seems that we have learned nothing from our previous mistakes.

The remaining 11 people from this group we believe mostly have been registered in Maurovouni quarantine facility on Lesvos, two arrived on Monday and eight on Wednesday, all by walking directly to the camp. The missing mother from the group we have no information on so far. An additional 16 people was registered on Wednesday from a separate landing. Strangely enough the Greek government seems to have listed all 26 as arrived in camp on Wednesday, and nobody the previous days, for what reasons, besides incompetence, we don`t know.

Information sent out to UNHCR and the Greek Ombudsman had zero effect, the group even tried to send messages directly to the Greek UNHCR Protection Helpline, they didn’t get any reply, they were met with silence. What UNHCR Greece is protecting is difficult to say, most likely their fat salaries, but certainly not vulnerable people seeking protection.

This case was published by Aegean Boat Report, Greek Helsinki Monitor and local newspapers, it was online on websites, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, seen by thousands of people, hundreds of NGOs, many who are present on Lesvos, but nobody stepped up, nobody intervened, this is shocking. Where are the organizations claiming to be “monitoring the borders”, protecting vulnerable people, and what practical significance do they have, besides posting statistics and big words in fancy reports now and then? Whenever they are called upon to actually do some work, to actually get their hands dirty, they act like headless chickens, running around without any purpose or meaning, in my book they are a joke, and should probably close down their operation, they are actually doing more harm than good. The organizations founded on the pillars to protect the most vulnerable people, turner’s their back every single day on the very people they were supposed to protect in the first place, with the excuses of “protecting” their operation. Unfortunately these “operations” are often done in a way that brings in huge funds, especially for the organizations founders, who have fancy titles and a salary that matches the title.

Once again, people have been forcibly and violently removed from Greece. In this instance, 23 people, men, women and children, were taken back to sea and forced into a small life raft, left drifting in the Aegean Sea by the “heroes” of the proud Hellenic coast guard.

Violations of international laws and human rights unfortunately happens every day in Greece, on orders from the Greek government. And the rest of Europe looks the other way and pretends nothing is happening as the rights of men women and children, seeking protection are violated.

There is no longer any doubt on what’s going on in Greece, and who is responsible, this has been thoroughly documented and proven.

The people responsible for this and hundreds of other illegal pushbacks involving thousands of vulnerable men, women and children seeking decent, safe places to live and work – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi and Greek Ministry of Shipping and Island Policy Ioannis Plakiotakis – should be removed from office and charged with crimes against humanity.

Meanwhile, the unwillingness by European politicians to stop these atrocities is a mockery of the European Union, and its claims to stand for decency, law and decent human standards.

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