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Beaten, robbed and forced to paddle themselves by hand back to Turkey: Greece’s government continues its barbaric pushbacks regime

Even as Greek politicians – and others from across Europe – said they would obey international law by welcoming people fleeing terror and chaos in Ukraine, the Greek government was beating, robbing, humiliating and risking the lives of men, women and children from other parts of the world, who are searching for safety.

On February 26-27, even as Greece’s Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis was announcing that Greece would welcome Ukrainian people, who he described as ‘real refugees’ men following his orders were beating, stripping, abusing, and forcing innocent men, women and children into a life raft, which they had to paddle with their hands to guide to safe dry land.

The people, of 12 Palestinians from Gaza, arrived by boat to Livadaki, Samos north east before first light on Saturday February 26.

Their story is similar to thousands of other refugees arriving on Greek shores, when encountering Greek officials: they are met with violence.

This group, six men, three women and three children, was beaten, threatened at gunpoint, and strip-searched in public. Even the children and women had to remove all their clothes in front of everyone.

The five men from Samos’ port police who ordered this outrage seemed to enjoy it, laughing when the women stood naked in front of them, crying: this sadistic behaviour has no place in today’s Europe. It feels like a breath from the past when Nazis ruled.

After arriving, the group tried to contact several organisations for assistance, sending pictures and videos as proof of their whereabouts. Unfortunately, by the time these organisations replied, it was already too late: the group had been found by police on Samos, and were no longer able to reply.

The group also tried to contact Aegean Boat Report, but could not respond when we tried to speak to them.

When local residents who tried to find them came up empty, we suspected that they had been taken away by police, and we contacted port police on Samos to try to get some answers.

After several calls to the Samos port police, the answer was still the same, they had no information on any arrivals on Samos, and more specifically no “incidents” in Livadaki.

This was not an unusual answer: it’s what they always say when asked about arrivals, or the whereabouts of people who suddenly disappear.

Aegean Boat Report published a report about this incident on Facebook, asking people to contact port police on Samos and demand answers. We also hoped that locals from the area who had observed this, would step forward.

Instead, nothing happened. It didn’t even make headlines in the local newspapers.

It is perhaps not a big surprise that the local newspapers looked the other way, they usually do in cases involving inhuman treatment of refugees.

Journalists working for these papers are usually either too scared to take up these cases, or agree with the Right-wing policies of the sitting fascistic Greek government. Either way, many are a disgrace to, and others must ask themselves why they are in, the profession.

From pictures we received from the new arrivals in Livadaki, there was absolutely no doubt that they had arrived on Samos. Unfortunately, their whereabouts seemed to be a mystery.

Locals in the area must have observed unusual activity this morning, uniformed men in balaclavas, vans with dark windows, cars from port police.

Since this group of people was, according to the port authority on Samos, not taken to the quarantine camp, we assumed that they had already been removed from the island, or locked up somewhere pending removal from it.

No new arrivals were registered on Samos this day or the following days.

Two days later, on February 28, our assumption was proven correct, Turkish coast guard published a picture of 12 people who had been found on land in a remote area in Kusadasi, Turkey, in the early hours of February 27.

We recognised several people on this picture, as being the same people that had been on Samos two days prior.

The group of 12 had been placed on a life raft after dark, and paddled with their own hands to get ashore.

They managed to reach land and lit a fire to try to keep warm.

Eventually, they were spotted by the Turkish coast guard, and at 02.00, February 27, they were rescued.

What had happened to this group was quite obvious: they had been found by police on Samos and removed from the island, and pushed back as so many before them.

The details about how this happened were not clear, until the people in this group contacted Aegean Boat Report again, this time from Izmir, Turkey.

The group of 12 had arrived west of Livadaki around 4.30am on February 26. They started walking east towards Livadaki. At first light, the group arrived at a church, and they took several pictures of themselves. From pictures received from the group, we can see that they arrived at the Saint Patapios church in Livadaki.

Around 7.00am, the group started walking towards Agios Konstantinos, and an hour later, they took pictures at a road sign at the intersection to Agios Konstantinos beach in the outskirts of the village.

To establish definite proof that the pictures taken by the Palestinian refugees on Samos on the morning of February 26, actually were from Samos, we had a local representative go out to find the exact areas these pictures had been taken. The new pictures were taken on February 28, and left no doubt.

Soon after they had taken this picture, the group was stopped by two police officers in a white Nissan Frontier from the port police on Samos. Both officers had dark blue uniforms and were wearing COVID protection masks.

Ilustration picture, similar make and model as the care stopping them on Samos

The car had two white stripes and the logo of the port authorities. The men guided the group off the main road, behind some big trees, hidden from the eyes of the public, and told them to wait here.

After about an hour, a second car arrived, a civilian blue car carrying three men in civilian clothes all wearing balaclavas, it seemed as if the police took orders from these people.

Everyone was searched. The police were very brutal, and stripped us naked, hit us several times. Even the children and women had to take of all their clothes in front of these brutal savages. One victim explained: ‘We were stripped naked and treated in a filthy obscene manner. This was done at gunpoint. We didn’t understand what was going on. It seemed that they only had interest for our phones and money, everything else they didn’t care about. Why all this, why are we treated in all the dirt like this? Are we terrorists or what? We left our country because of the wars, leaving us nothing, no homeland, no life. We were subjected to injustice and insults.

TCG Video

‘Why did the Greeks treat us this way? Before this, I had got to the Greek island of Chios, got to the beach, and they forced us back to Turkey. Why all this violence?’

After hours hidden among the trees, a dark blue van arrived. In the back there were no seats. Everyone was forced inside and had to sit on the dirty floor.

Ilustration picture

They drove for about one hour, perhaps more, followed by both the police car and the civilian car. At some point the civilian car stopped following them, and the van started to drive up towards the mountains.

The person explained: ‘They took us to an army base somewhere up in the mountains, the soldiers saw us, but they didn’t let us out of the van, we waited there for hours, with no food, or water, and they didn’t let us use the toilet, not even the women and children. They kept us there until they drove us down to the sea, where a boat was waiting.’

On Saturday February 26, at around noon, the van drove down towards the sea with the 12 arrested Palestinian refugees, 6 young men, 3 women and 3 children. They took them to a remote area, with no port, just a rocky area at the coast where a small vessel from the Hellenic coast guard was waiting.

(After looking at pictures of Greek vessels, the victims identified the vessel as a Ragnar 1100 Patrol RIB belonging to the Hellenic coast guard, one of these boats is stationed on Samos.)

Ilustration Picture

The patrol RIB took the group out to a larger vessel waiting out at sea, later identified as a Lambro 57 belonging to the Hellenic coast guard, which is also stationed on Samos.

Ilustration Picture

Onboard the vessel, people were again brutally searched, some who didn’t cooperate were beaten and threatened with guns. We asked the group to get them to identify numbers on their vehicles and vessels.

They replied ‘Unfortunately, it was impossible because our heads were on the ground and it was forbidden to raise them. Once you raised your head, they were beating violently.’

Please keep in mind that we are talking about officers from a “democratic” European country, and not the armed force of a military junta. Their status or nationality didn’t matter, the only thing that did were the orders from the Greek government: everyone must be stopped, everyone must be returned, by all means possible, no exceptions.

One of the victims tried to talk to the officers onboard, and showed him his family’s UNRWA registration papers. ‘They didn’t tell us anything. He was avoiding talking to us. I showed them my papers proving that I was Palestinian, and I had proof from UNRWA #that I was a refugee, but they didn’t care.’

In broad daylight, the Hellenic coast guard forced 12 defenceless men, women and children into a life raft in the middle of the Aegean Sea and left them drifting.

They couldn’t call for help because Greek police had taken all their phones away. They paddled with their hands to get to safety on land. After hours of this, they managed to get ashore in a remote area of Kussadasi, Turkey, where they were found by the Turkish coast guard the following night.

TCG Video

Now, we should note that in the last 11 days, more than 1.3m Ukrainian people have been forced from their country.

The EU has responded by offering them the chance to enter and to find safe places to live, learn and work. This is the EU following international law – in fact, going further by automatically offering these men, women and children protection.

It is good to be reminded that the EU is capable of doing its duty by recognising and acting on those people’s rights as human beings. But even as it happens, EU states are still breaking the law, and acting against all human decency and civilisation, by pushing back other people – people who are just as likely to be refugees, including some like this Palestinian family who certainly are – from their borders: not only denying them asylum, but their right even to apply for asylum.

Artwork By Yorgos Konstantinou

The law is not a lottery: one does not have human rights only if one is born in a particular part of the world.

Human rights are everyone’s: they are the rights of every person on Earth, regardless of their race, their nationality, their colour or their beliefs. The EU is now proving, as we always knew, that it CAN follow the law – and do more than it asks.

Now, it must do so for everyone. Ukrainian people require our help in these darkest of times. It is good that the EU is offering that. But so do many other people, and the bloc – every part of it – must stop denying those people their rights, and instead help them, too, find shelter and ways to start to rebuild their lives.

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