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Chios Pushback nr 99

Thursday afternoon a boat reported to be carrying 34 people landed south west of Keramia, Chios south east. We have later found information that indicates that the total number of people on this boat was 41.

After arriving they split up into four groups, and hid in the surrounding area, frightened that if found by police they would be illegally returned to Turkey.

Two groups, 8 and 6 people, who contacted Aegean Boat Report after arriving, stayed in the area over night. In the morning of Friday 31th of December, they moved towards Ag. Ermioni. A group of 8 people walked into the village, and down to the harbor, while 6 were skeptical, and remained on the road outside the village.

Locals on the area spotted the new arrivals, and most likely contact police, all contact with both groups in Ermioni was lost at noon this day, but before contact was lost they managed to send many pictures to document their presence in the village.

On December 31, a total of 14 people were officially registered as having arrived on Chios, we believe these 14 people were found in Ag. Ermioni, and not pushed back because too many locals had documented their presence. It would be very difficult for local police to deny that they had been in the village.

The two remaining groups, 23 and 4 people, moved towards the village of Neochorion, where they stayed over night next to the local kindergarten.

In the early hours of Friday they again contacted Aegean Boat Report, asking for help. They sent several videos, it was raining, the situation for the children was especially difficult.

The group continued walking, now on the main road towards Chios city center, but at 08.20 they were stopped by police. They sent several voice messages asking for help, unfortunately nobody could, they were in the hands of the Greek authorities.

We followed their last movements on live position on Whatsapp, it seemed that the police had moved them off the road and into a backyard of a villa in the area, and here, at 09.18, the phone went offline. It has not been online since.

We hoped that also these two groups would be taken to the quarantine facility on Chios, at the time all we could do was wait and hope for the best. Unfortunately only 14 people was registered in the quarantine facility, no new registrations were made in the following day.

When we posted information on their arrival that day, we knew that without assistance from local organizations they would most likely be illegally returned to Turkey. We wrote:

“The group contacted Aegean Boat Report for assistance, but we couldn’t find anyone on Chios to help them. The criminalization strategy by the Greek authorities is working perfectly, anyone assisting unregistered refugees will face criminal charges.

New arrivals in Greece face an imminent risk of being pushed back, in desperate need of protection, and nobody can legally protect them, that’s actually mind blowing, how could we end up at this point in Europe without anyone trying to stop it?

This group is as far as we know still in hiding in the woods, we can see them being online, but have for unknown reasons stoped replying.

Without assistance from people on location, and without organizations willing to assist, these vulnerable people will be left to their own fate.

We fear that if found by police, they will face a violent pushback, at gunpoint, by the hand of the Hellenic coast guard, as so many before them.

These men, women and children need protection now, but who can we turn to when even UNHCR refuses to help?”

The local online news Astraparis also posted about the new arrivals.

Yesterday we could confirm that these two groups, in which police had found and arrested, 27 people, men women and children, were stripped of all their belongings and forcibly removed from Chios by port police, on direct orders from the Greek government. In 2021 Aegean Boat Report has registered 629 cases of illegal pushbacks on the Greek Aegean Islands, 99 of them on Chios.

At 21.50, December 31, Turkish coast guard found and rescued 27 people from a life raft drifting outside Cesme, Turkey.

From pictures and videos taken while on Chios, and shared with Aegean Boat Report, there is absolutely no doubt that it’s the same people, there is also no doubt about who is responsible.

No help arrived, because there is no help for these people, the only thing Aegean Boat Report can do in cases like this, is to document, and later publish our findings.

Perhaps at some point in the future, these documented cases of pushbacks can lead to changes for the better. For the people in this pushback, and all the pushbacks in the coming weeks and months, there is no comfort in that, but we have to believe that things will change, at some point in the future. I have been telling myself this for weeks, months and years, and I’m losing hope that this will ever become reality. Since March 2020, almost 26.000 people have been pushed back by the hands of the Greek government in the Aegean Sea.

So is it plausible that they managed to do this, by themselves, without any “assistance”? First find a life raft, in an area where there is basically nothing but small fishing boats, then inflate it and paddle, because these life rafts have no engine, back towards the place they where fleeing from in the first place, in the dark. And yes, they most likely were paddling with their shoes, because when they were found they had no shoes, even the small child must have dropped his shoes in his effort to get them back to Turkey.

Not a very plausible explanation, but this is the explanation the Greek government wants you to believe, that they somehow managed, and wanted to go back to Turkey. A place so horrifying for them, that they took their children in a dangerous boat, to cross the deadliest stretch of water in Europe, in the dark, and for this they paid a smuggler thousands of Euros. Nobody is naive enough to believe that this was something they did by themselves, and I mean literally nobody, but nevertheless this is the Greek government’s explanation for this “phenomena”.

And we must by all means believe the Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, when he tells the international press, over and over again, that the Greek government is not responsible for these pushbacks, and say “If there’s any incident that needs to be explored, if there’s any exaggeration at any given point, I’m going to be the first to look into it,”, Well he never has..

Also the minister of migration and asylum Notis Mitarachi, have been eager to proclaim the Greek government’s innocence in these pushbacks, that the international press is paid and been manipulated by the Turkish government and the “criminal” NGOs, to publish unfounded accusations to smear the good name of Greece. He always, when asked of these pushbacks say, “Greece has a tough but fair’ border management policy, to protect the border of Europe”.

Artwork by Yorgos Konstantinou

In the last 22 months, 484 life rafts have been found drifting in the Aegean Sea carrying over 8,400 people. Nowhere on earth have so many life rafts been found at sea, in peace or war times, but strangely enough, European politicians seem to be unwilling to even address the issue.

The politicians we have elected to protect, as the Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson put it, “our fundamental European values”, seem to be fumbling at a time when Europe seems to be at a crossroads. We need to decide if Europe will continue to be a place where we protect people seeking safety, where international laws and human rights are upheld, or if we will continue to build a wall around Europe, where only the fortunate ones, with a golden ticket, will be allowed to enter.

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