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MSF found refugees beaten and handcuffed on the Greek island of Lesvos

Last week, Thursday October 20, we published a short report on Facebook about a group of 22 people who had arrived west of Korakas, Lesvos north.

Today, MSF published a press release about this case, explaining that they had found several people from this group handcuffed and injured after being beaten by 7-8 men.

In their press statement they urge the appropriate state authorities to take all necessary measures to prevent and stop such incidents from happening. This is all well and good, and in general any European authority would immediately act on such brutality against refugees, by investigating and trying to find those responsible.

There is only one huge problem, the ones beating, torturing and in some cases even killing, refugees, are doing so on direct orders from the Greek authorities.

Any investigation into these matters, no matter how serious they are, always ends up the same, no crime has been committed or the evidence is not good enough to investigate further, it’s very convenient.

In this case, the group had arrived the night before, just east of Skala Sikamineas. They tried to hide in the dark, in an effort to avoid being found by Greek authorities.

We said: “After arriving people fled to the woods in the surrounding area to hide from Greek authorities, fearing that if they were found they would be illegally returned to Turkey. The group contacted Aegean Boat Report in the early hours of today for assistance, providing documentation on their presence on Lesvos. Pictures, videos and location data left no doubt that the groups were on Lesvos”.

After making sure the group was in fact on Lesvos, we provided them with the necessary means, so that they themselves could act, to try to prevent another pushback.

The group themselves contacted different organisations on the island, to ask for assistance, seemingly including MSF, according to their press statement.

In general, all organisations receiving information about new arrivals must first inform authorities. Organisations usually ask the people who contact them for permission to give their location to authorities, and explain that when they have information authorities, they will also ask permission from authorities to go to the location to give assistance. In this case, it seems MSF was given such permission.

Many probably wonder why give location of new arrivals to authorities, when it’s proven without a doubt that the same authorities are removing people from the islands, leaving them drifting in life rafts in the Aegean Sea. The answer is simple: if they don’t provide this information to authorities, they cannot go to them to help them, as the Greek government has declared it illegal, and people doing so could be arrested and face years in prison on ‘facilitation’ charges.

To help people without permission from authorities is a crime in Greece, it shouldn’t be but it is. In this case, according to information we received while communicating with the group, MSF was prevented by local police from providing assistance, even though they had been given such approval by authorities.

At the time we didn’t read much into this. It’s done frequently to try to stop organisations from helping new arrivals. Assistance is delayed for hours, sometimes just because the authorities can deny it, and at other times deliberately to delay organisations reaching newly-arrived refugees, so that authorities can remove them and illegally deport them back to Turkey.

But despite not believing this to be unusual, we then received a very short, but nevertheless very worrying voice message. It lasted just three seconds, but we immediately understood that something was not as it should be.

Shortly after this, all contact was lost. We feared the group had been found by authorities and arrested. But some hours later, we were informed that 22 people – seven children, six women and nine men – had been found, safe, and were on their way to the quarantine camp in Megala Therma.

Reading MSF’s statement today, the bits and pieces of information about what happened fall into place.

The police stopped MSF on the road and wanted to check all kinds of papers, delayed them for at least one hour, while a group of 7-8 commandos was searching the area to find the group.

The government was given the location of the group through normal procedures on the islands, but this time they wanted to take advantage of this information to remove them before organisations could reach them, and had sent their ‘refugee hunters’ to the area.

The voice message we received was when these men found the group. All hell broke loose; total chaos, people fearing for their lives.

The men had called out to the group that they were doctors sent to help, to try to gain their trust. The refugees of course knew the real doctors had been stopped by police.

The group was attacked from several directions, masked men started to beat people, some with their bare hands, other used batons, several were injured.

One of the men in the group of 22 people used his phone to take pictures and videos of the beatings. The imposters caught him and took his phone. They were very angry, so nobody else tried, fearing being beaten up as well.

As described in the press statement, four men were injured and taken to hospital, three others were found handcuffed with plastic zip ties.

“As we were approaching the location, on a mountain, we started hearing people screaming, a lot of screaming, we were worried and started running in their direction. When we arrived, we found 22 people,” says MSF’s Lesvos project coordinator Teo Di Piazza.

“Everybody was crying; women, children and men. Three people were handcuffed very tightly with plastic bundles. Four others were injured. Based on their reports, the injuries were due to violence from a group of people who had left when we approached.”

Just before MSF arrived on scene these men ran away, and MSF say they did not see them, but the people from the group have given information that could indicate who these 7-8 men were. If MSF had been further delayed, and not arrived when they did, this group would most definitely have been pushed back to sea, left helplessly drifting in life rafts, as so many thousands before them.

It was 7-8 people, all men, in normal clothes, three in black balaclavas, the rest covering their faces with neck gaiters. All wore sunglasses, gloves and had ‘army boots’. One had a pistol strapped to his leg. Several used batons. One of the men covering his face with a neck gaiter was bald, another had very short hair. All looked athletic.

These guys knew exactly what they were doing, they were trained, no local vigilantes would operate in this manner. They had done this many times before. They were professionals, no doubt about it.

The information provided strongly suggests they were military personnel or police special forces, specifically on the islands to ‘hunt’ refugees, on direct orders from the Greek authorities. Just before MSF arrived, and the group vanished, we have been told they communicated with someone over a small radio, indicating they had assistance, and most likely communicated with local police.

One hour later, at approximately 14.00, four suspicious vehicles were observed in Mantamados heading south, two cars and a motorcycle in front, behind them a dark van without license plates.

These cars driving around on the islands without license plates is in fact quite strange. If any civilian took a car out like this, it would immediately be stopped by police, because it’s illegal.

The strange thing is, these cars have been observed several times around the islands over the last two years, and seem to be allowed to do so by police. As a result, it’s quite obvious that they belong to the authorities, or they would have been stopped long ago.

This case is unfortunately not the only one, because these ‘hunters’ have been allowed to torment, beat and torture hundreds, if not thousands, of people on direct orders from Greek authorities in the name of ‘border protection’.

Families, men, women and children, have been rounded up like cattle, threatened, beaten and forced back to sea by these criminals, left helplessly drifting in life rafts in the Aegean Sea.

This is not the actions of local vigilantes, it’s a systematic process that involves local police, special forces, the Coastguard and Frontex, and it could only be done if the orders were given directly by the Greek authorities.

So, what is done to stop this madness?

Absolutely nothing.

This is what these days is considered ‘normal’ in Greece and especially on the Greek Aegean islands. Everyone working on these islands knows, but people are too scared of the consequences of speaking up.

One way or another, this needs to stop.

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