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Pushbacks as Border Management

In the morning of December 2, at 07.00, a boat carrying approximately 40 people arrived west of Tarti, Lesvos south.

After arriving the group quickly moved away from the beach, afraid to be found by police and illegally returned to Turkey.

The group walked for hours toward higher ground, believed they would be safer if they just managed to get as far away from the sea as possible, unfortunately they were spotted by a local farmer, and he most likely alerted the authorities.

The group didn’t move very quickly, and around 2 pm, two masked men in dark uniforms carrying guns found them, everyone was ordered to get down on the ground, if anyone tried to run they would be shot, the masked men shouted several times. In the chaos that followed some from the group managed to run away, but most, 26 people, was arrested by Greek police.

One guarded the group while the other called for reinforcements, soon 7 more men arrived, all with their faces hidden behind black balaclavas, all carrying guns.

The group was thoroughly searched, especially the young woman. At gunpoint they had to strip naked, in front of everyone, while the commandos search them between the legs, laughing while doing so, it seemed to amuse them, it was an horrific ordeal.

One by one everyone was searched before handcuffed with black plastic strips, what little they had was taken away from them, bags, money, papers and phones. Those who tried to hide something or didn’t obey orders given immediately, was beaten, everyone was terrified, many was crying, begging for their lives, others was in shock.

Illustration picture from a previous case on Lesvos

Later some of the people from the group explained that this was exactly the kind of terror that made them flee their home country in the first place, they didn’t expect to be treated like worthless animals when they arrived in Europe, to be threatened, beaten, violated and humiliated in the worst way imaginable, it was shocking.

The group was eventually taken to small road, where a dark blue van was waiting. They had difficulty describing the van, but they said it had a logo on it similar to the logo on the uniform the men was wearing, they called it a “prison van”. Everyone was forced in like cattle to the slaughter, it was done again by force, hitting and shooting seemed to be the preferred method to get people in line.

The van didn’t drive far, first on a bumpy road, then on asphalt, before going back on a bumpy road and shortly after stopping. They stayed locked up inside the van for a while, and when the doors finally opened, the shouting and screaming ones again started.

Looking up they could see that they were back down by the sea, at some small port, and a gray military boat was docked at a small concrete pier. The men shouted “ look down and be quiet”, those who didn’t obey was hit with sticks. The group was marched down to the boat in a single line, one by one they were taken onboard the military boat and placed in the front of the boat, on deck.

The men onboard the military vessel was wearing similar dark uniforms, their faces covered with balaclavas, some carrying guns while others had shotguns. They could observe 7 men, but said there was more people inside the boat that they didn’t see. Everyone was again told to sit quietly with their face down, anyone looking up or trying to speak got a severe beating.

Later when we spoke with the victims over the phone, they described the vessel as gray and white with blue and white stripes on the side, and the number 618 written on the side of the vessel.

The boat is identified as a POB-24G Faiakas class patrol vessel, the ΛΣ-618 belongs to the Hellenic coast guard and is stationed on Lesvos. This vessels together with five other was ordered in 2014, 75% financed through the European External Border Fund, paid for from mostly EU taxpayers money.

This particular vessel, nr 618, has been involved in numerous illegal pushback operations over several years in the Aegean Sea, well documented cases have been published without any actions taken by Greek authorities or the European Union to investigate these serious allegations.

After a short trip the vessel stopped in the middle of the sea, the masked men inflated two life rafts and ripped off the orange cover leaving only the black tubes. People was crying, begging for mercy, but in vain, everyone was forced into these two rafts, 26 people, men, women and children, was left helplessly drifting at sea by the Greek Coast Guard.

Lucky and miraculously one of the men had managed to hide his phone, exactly how he didn’t say, but with this phone he called and informed the Turkish coast guard through the international emergency number 112. After they also called Aegean Boat Report, and informed of their situation, providing pictures, videos and location to document what just had happen to them.

Shortly after, at 17.40, 26 people was found drifting outside Dikili, Turkey, by the Turkish Coast Guard, in two Greek manufactured life rafts, 20 Liberians, 3 Ugandans, 2 Congolese and one from Ghanaand was taken back to Turkey, the country they had fled from earlier the same day.

9 people from this group was registered in the refugee camp on Lesvos the following day, four more the day after. How they managed to escape and how they ended up in camp we don’t know, non of them have been in contact with us so we can not tell their story.

If this had been an isolated incident it would indeed have been shocking, it’s illegal according to international law and a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the Refugee Convention of 1951. But unfortunately this is not an isolated incident, and nobody seems to care anymore that thousands of people’s human rights has been violated on the border of Europe, pushbacks have become border management, and nobody seems to want to do anything about it.

Since March 2020, we have registtered 1860 pushback cases in the Aegean Sea, performed by the Hellenic coast guard, involving 49.237 men, women and children, 658 of these cases was performed by using rescue equipment/life rafts, 17.060 people was left drifting in 1.012 life rafts in the Aegean Sea.

Almost 50.000 people pushed back at sea, thousands killed, and EU politicians seems unwilling or unable to do anything about it, is this our values, the European way of life?

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