On Wednesday morning, June 22 at 05.30, a boat carrying 39 people, mostly families fleeing from Afghanistan, landed on the uninhabited Greek island of Farmakonisi.
The group contacted Aegean Boat Report for assistance, they asked for help to be rescued from the island and taken to a port of safety to apply for asylum.
Farmakonisi is a small uninhabited Greek island in the Dodecanese, there is a Greek military garrison on the island.
The group sent pictures, videos and geolocations to Aegean Boat Report to prove and document their presence on the island, there is no doubt that they in fact were on Farmakonisi.
There is no rescue vessel in the Aegean Sea, the only solution to get people rescued from these uninhabited islands is by assistance of the Greek coast guard. Unfortunately the same coast guard brutality and illegal returnees people by all means possible, on direct orders from the Greek authorities, this group was no exception.
At 09.00 on Wednesday we lost contact with the group, all phones we had contact with went offline, we assumed that they had been found by the military on the island and arrested.
In previous cases when people have arrived on Farmakonisi, they have been arrested and taken to a closed area surrounded by barbed wire next to a small port on the island, a shabby worn-down shed the only shelter. We assume the this group was taken to the same area after being arrested.
On Thursday morning, 04.25, Turkish coast guard reported finding two life rafts drifting outside Datcha, Turkey, 10 miles south east of Kos, a total of 39 people were rescued, many of them children and elderly people.
The victims from this illegal pushback explained how commandos in dark uniforms, face’s covered by balaclavas, tortured some of the men in the group while in Greek custody on Farmakonisi, “it seemed to amuse them” one of the victims explained, “we had done nothing wrong, we are fleeing from torture, trying to find safety, to be tortured in Europe when we arrive, where is the humanity?”.
After spending 20 hours in captivity on Farmakonisi, the Hellenic coast guard forced these families, men, women and children, into two life rafts and abandoned them, helplessly drifting in the Aegean Sea in the middle of the night. Tansporting them over 70 km from Farmakonisi to Datcha.
Such treatment demonstrates Europe’s continuing trend away from human rights protection towards border control along with a lack of accountability from the European Union’s border force, Frontex.
At a time when Greek authorities are facing heavy criticism for violations of international laws and human rights, pushbacks and violence in the Aegean Sea towards asylum seekers fleeing war and persecution is rapidly increasing, efforts to stop these authorities seems to have no effect.
Greek authorities claims that they do not perform pushbacks, and that all the evidence piling up against them over the last two years is the result of Turkish propaganda. UN, reputed journalists, NGOs, European MEPs, international courts, even the High Commissioner For Refugees, Filippo Grandi, are being manipulated by “propaganda machines and smuggling networks”, paid off, according to the Greek authorities..
Pushbacks violate the fundamental asylum-law principle of non-refoulement and are contrary to international and EU human rights law of which Greece, as an EU Member State is subject to as well as national law (article 20 and 41 of Law no. 3907 of 2011.16).
It is the absolute legal right of any person to travel to any state, with or without paperwork, to apply for asylum. It is absolutely illegal for any government to prevent them, or to force them out of the country once they have entered, without giving their application for asylum due consideration.
What’s going on in Greece is unacceptable. It is a stain not only on the good name of Greece and Europe, but on the world.
In this case Aegean Boat Report definitely should have done more to try to prevent this pushback, but due to lack of funding and resources ,the organization was not able to provide any assistance.
At the time people on Farmakonisi contacted Aegean Boat Report, the organization was already engaged in a case on Barbalias Island, Lesvos, trying to prevent 29 people from being pushed back. By the time I could start focusing on the case on Farmakonisi, all contact was lost, and I had nothing to work with.
Due to lack of funding and resources, I unfortunately have to prioritize between cases I believe I can and can not change the outcome of. It might seem cruel to some, but that’s the reality. People arriving on uninhabited islands will always need the assistance of the Greek coast guard, there is no other means of rescue available in the Aegean Sea. And as we all know, the Greek coast guard are ordered to remove people, push them back by all means possible, on orders from the Greek authorities.
Could the organization have made any difference in this case, honestly not much. I could have provided the group with some public attention by publishing their case, the effect would most likely been limited, but definitely better than nothing, it would perhaps have given them at least a fighting chance, and that they definitely deserved.
I try to be as honest as I can, one person can only do so much without proper funding, for those I have failed, I’m truly sorry.