Pushbacks in Greece Continues While Under Scrutiny

In the early hours of July 8, a group of 29 people arrived north of Pamfila, Lesvos south east. After arriving they tried to hide from Greek police in the surrounding area. The group consisted of Afghan families, amongst them 15 children.

The following day, in the afternoon, they contacted Aegean Boat Report for assistance, and provided pictures, videos and geolocations, there was absolutely no doubt that the group was on Lesvos.

Before we managed to find someone on the ground to assist, contact was lost. We had contact with the group for only 35 minutes, last contact was 17.25.

The group had most likely been spotted by locals the following day, or their boat had been found on the beach. Port police had sent out a “hunting party” to the area to locate the new arrivals, men in unmarked vehicles wearing balaclavas and carrying guns was observed in the area. We believe contact was lost when they were found and arrested by Greek authorities, all phones confiscated and turned off as they routinely do when they intend to remove people from the island. The group had arrived less than 4 km from the camp on Lesvos.

Local assets went to the location, but to late, there was nobody there, the group had already been removed. They could clearly see that the area had been used, grass was flattened and garbage was left behind, all with Turkish label’s.

The camps, north and south, reported no new arrivals at the time, we feared that the group was in imminent danger of being pushed back, if not already removed. We published about the group on Facebook to make public awareness, perhaps someone on the ground had seen or heard something that could shed light on the situation.

We know now that 16 people from this group, most of them small children, was arrested and held captive at gunpoint on Lesvos, until the Greek coast guard removed them from the island by force, that anyone could treat these small children with such cruelty is beyond my comprehension.

People arriving on Lesvos asking for help

The rest of the group had managed to escape the area on foot, and was hiding from the authorities until nightfall. It was later learned that small groups had arrived by themselves at the refugee camp in Mavrovouni, this night and the following day, under four kilometers from their arrival location.

People moved under cover of darkness in small groups, through the hills and small roads to avoid being detected, slowly closing in on the camp.

16 people was found and rescued by the Turkish coast guard at 20.45 on July 8 outside Dikili, south east of Lesvos. 16 people, mostly small children, had been forced into a life raft and left helplessly drifting in the Aegean Sea by the Greek coast guard.

When we compared pictures and videos received by Aegean Boat Report while the group was on Lesvos, with footage from when they were found by the Turkish coast guard, there is absolutely no doubt that it’s the same people, we could positively identify all 16.

In an interview conducted by Turkish officials, a man from the group explained how some of them had been arrested and stripped of all belongings. They had been transported in the back of a van, taken from the beach in a smaller boat out to a coast guard vessel that was waiting for them, and left drifting in a life raft in the Aegean Sea.

Interview victim of the pushback on Juky 8 2022

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..

Greek uniformed officers beat these people. They rob them, strip them, in some cases sexually assault them. They ridicule them, injure them, and in some cases kill them. It is hard to imagine how any government could possibly behave worse to people seeking safety.

As long as human rights abuse by Greek authorities continues, all funding from the EU should and must stop, on all projects. Funding already received should be thoroughly investigated to determine if funds are used as intended. End all Frontex operations and remove all Frontex presence currently deployed in Greece, until violations of international laws and human rights are brought to an end.

The European Union border guard agency’s oversight mechanisms have failed to safeguard people against serious human rights violations at the EU’s external borders. The actions of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), shows a pattern of failure to credibly investigate or take steps to mitigate abuses against migrants at EU external borders, even in the face of clear evidence of rights violations.

Frontex has repeatedly failed to take effective action when allegations of human rights violations are brought to its attention. Frontex has seven oversight, reporting, and monitoring mechanisms with the stated purpose of ensuring that its officers do not engage in abuse, are held accountable if they do, and are not complicit in abuse by EU member states. They include a system to report serious incidents that has recorded only a few incidents but failed to prevent abuse, and failed to hold those responsible accountable.

Under Article 46 of the Frontex Regulation, the agency also has a duty to suspend or terminate operations in case of serious abuses, Greece is a textbook example of such abuse.

Since March 2020, Greek authorities have illegal pushed back 36.885 people in 1.396 cases, left 870 boats and 740 life rafts helplessly drifting in the Aegean Sea, in some cases assisted by Frontex.

From Aegean Boat Report Statistics

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.

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