When a boat arrived on the Greek island of Agathonisi yesterday, we feared the worst, people was scared, hiding from authorities in fear of being illegally sent back to Turkey.
After arriving they split up in several smaller groups, some moved quickly away from the area, other stayed in the area hiding in fear of being found by Greek authorities and removed from the island.
A group of 7, 3 men, 2 women and 2 children contacted Aegean Boat Report for assistance, they want to apply for asylum in Greece, but have been pushed back 5 times before, they are scared this will happen also this time.
There has been several groups arriving on Agathonisi lately, non of them have been given the opportunity to apply for asylum, all of them have been illegal removed from the island by Greek coast guard and found themselves drifting in life rafts in the Aegean Sea.
We feared that the same faith awaited this group, and we were given permission from the group to publish their case, in hope that this could make a difference.
The group was moving slowly, small children, one two months and a three year old girl, one of the men needed medical attention, he had thyroid cancer and diabetes, could only walk for 5 minutes at a time.
On social media we urged people to try to intervene, the group desperately needed protection, but under the current circumstances, on this island, we had no possibility to do so, perhaps our prayers were heard.
While walking toward the village they met a local on the road, he couldn’t speak English, but he understood that they needed help, and walked with them toward the village. Another local joined them on the road, and together they met local police further down the road. A kind and unselfish gesture, the kind of behavior I’m all too familiar with, from the start of the refugee crisis back in 2015.
The group of 7 was transported to the port on Agathonisi in a small red car, locals was kind enough to drive them, seeing that some of them had problems walking.
Down in the port the small group was given two rooms, nothing fancy, a balcony, beds and a view over the port, it was more than they expected. This kind of hospitality is a pleasant breath from the past, what used to be, but not anymore.
After a while the rest of their group arrived in the port, at first everyone was staying outside, down in the port, but the most vulnerable, families, children and women, was given a roof over their heads before nightfall.
The group was given sandwiches, water and diapers for the babies, the group felt that they had been taken care of, and was very grateful for the assistance given to try to ensure that they would not be pushed back.
Police had assured the group that they would be taken to the refugee camp on Samos the following day. What happened yesterday came as a very pleasant surprise, local police and the local community had protected the group of vulnerable people. Why this sudden change of tone we don’t know, but that publicity or public pressure had something to do with it I’m certain.
Police first took the phones away from the group, after a while they gave the phones back, and told them to contact Aegean Boat Report and say that everyone was ok, no need to publish more about them on Facebook.
Aegean Boat Report continued to follow the group throughout the night, some was still not sure that everything was ok, and they feared the the Greek police was lying to them, so that they could push them back in the morning. We ensured the group that this was not a very likely outcome, there had been too much attention on their arrival, not only on the island but also on social media.
This morning we could see that everyone had gathered in the port, waiting for the ferry that would take them to the refugee camp on Samos. People was in good spirit, but uncertain on what the future had in store for them, we could se it in their faces.
A Italian tourist, Simona, that had been on Agathonisi on holiday for two weeks, was kind enough to provide the group with food, water and coffee in the port, she also made sure that the babies had something to eat and drink, another kind gesture, very much appreciated by the group. I called her up to thank her for her big heart, we spoke briefly, she was genuinely concerned with their wellbeing, and said this was the least she could do. I’m always touched when encountering this kind of unexpected kindness, this time was no exception.
Also the mayor of Agathonisi, Evaggelos Kottoros, came down to the port to say hello to his new guests on the island, he spoke to several members of the group and seemed genuinely interested in their wellbeing. Perhaps not very surprising that the mayor would look into this case, it’s “his” island, but that he took interest and showed up, tells me that he’s perhaps not in line with the Greek government’s policy on refugee issues, I’m at least hoping he’s not.
Eventually the ferry arrived, all members of the group had received a ticket, it seemed that it finally occurred to them, that they would be taken to safety on Samos, and that they would arrive on Samos on a ferry, as normal people, and not on a rubber boat.
The group entered the ferry after saying goodbye to their short but good acquaintances on Agathonisi, we followed the group, as agreed, on WhatsApp live location. We knew that the ferry would go to Samos, but I was asked to monitor them, and it was the least I could do, if that made them feel more at ease.
One hour later the ferry arrived in the port of Pythagoreio, on the south shores of Samos. The group was escorted to a minibus that would take them to the closed refugee camp on the island.
The last words from the group, “ Now the police on Samos will take us in the minibus, they told us that they will take all our phones, they say we must turn them off and give it to them”, the man seemed confused, he didn’t understand why the police would take their phones.
It’s perhaps news for most of you, but after people arrive, as refugees, the authorities collect all their phones. This is done because they want to go through each and every phone, look at all contents to see if there is anything on the phones that could be incriminating, evidence of contact with Smugler’s etc. All contents, pictures, videos, phone numbers, conversations on messaging applications and call logs are copied, and later carefully examined. This is done in all cases, and not only those who they suspect of criminal activities, even the phones of minors are taken in to be copied. If this is in line with European law, I’m not to sure of, but it’s nevertheless done and has been a regular practice for years. How they treat all this personal sensitive information, we can’t say, this is for the Greek authorities to clarify.
This was a small but important victory, this shows that public pressure can change the outcome of a case, perhaps not always, but sometimes. We can, if given good information from arrivals, publish their case to try to give them some protection, to at least give them a fighting chance.
I would personally like to say thank you to the people that assisted on Agathonisi, it’s like I said, unusual these days to find such kindness played out in the open towards refugees, this is usually done in secret and behind closed doors, in fear of reprisals from Greek authorities and right wing elements in Greece. I clearly remember from the past the big Greek heart, nowadays it seems to be lost, hopefully it will be found again.
For once i could write and publish something that was not all tragic, to show that there is hope for change and a better future, even for refugees in Greece, if this case is a sign of that, I’m not to convinced. This was one case out of thousands, that for once ended better than expected. I’m grateful for all involvement from people who genuinely cares about the wellbeing of our fellow human beings, without you this might have ended differently.