On Thursday December 15, 26 people, 25 Palestinians and one Yemeni, was found on the Aegean island of Lipsi in northern Dodecanese. The group claimed to have been hiding on a remote beach on the island , to avoid being found by Greek authorities and illegally returned to Turkey.
The group consisted of Palestinian families fleeing from Turkey, amongst them 4 children, 3 pregnant women and a man with a serious case of diabetes that needed medical attention, and was provided by the local ambulance on the island.
The group was eventually brought to the port police office in Lipsi by local police, located in the port across from Lipsi Park.
Locals on the island once again showed solidarity, provided food, clothes, hygiene/sanitary products and toys for the children, even local police provided water and oranges.
Around 15.00 local police started escorting the group down to the port and out to the pier, information from port police on Lipsi was that the group was going to be transported to camp on Leros. Later we will see that this information was not correct.
At 16.00 a coast guard vessel arrived in Port, there are no coast guard vessels stationed on Lipsi.
The boat was, as we can see from pictures and videos, a Lambro Halmatic 60 SAR vessel, belonging to the Hellenic coast guard, carrying identification number 514. The SAR-514 is one out of 10 vessels in this class in the Greek coast guard fleet, this one is stationed on Leros.
Onboard the SAR vessel we can clearly see 8 men, five of these men uses balaclavas to cover their faces, two are without masks and one uses a regular face mask. According to Greek officials balaclavas is not used by coast guard performing their regular duties, but in this case most actually did.
Locals were not allowed to go out on the pier, but from a distance they observed the group being slowly taken onboard and placed outside in the back of the vessel. The ambulance drove out to the coast guard vessel with the diabetic patient who also was transferred to the coast guard ship.
There were many witnesses on Lipsi who can confirm that this group of 26 people, mostly Palestinian families, men, woman and children, was on the island of Lipsi, and in the custody of the Hellenic coast guard, even a local priest from the Greek Orthodox Church was there to give support. Little did they know then of what would happen to these families, their faith was already set.
Shortly after 17 pm, while the sun was going down, the coast guard vessel left port in Lipsi and headed out to sea carrying 26 refugees that locals was told by local port police would be taken to Leros. In pictures and videos we can see the vessel leaving port, all 26 refugees was sitting outside in the back of the vessel, while these masked officers was guarding them on deck.
What we can confirm is that this group never arrived on Leros as locals was told. As we can see from the official registration data provided by Greek authorities only one person arrived on Leros on December 15, no arrivals the following day was registered.
Some might think that this could be an error in the registration, and that the group was taken to Leros on the evening of December 15. Unfortunately this is not the case, first reception on Leros will confirm that only one person arrived on the island during these two days, and this person did not arrive on the SAR-514, so what really happened to this group?
For people working in documenting the situation in the Aegean Sea, these cases are not rare nor unusual, it’s actually more the rule than the exception. Refugees, men, women and children are removed from Greek islands and forced into life rafts in the middle of the sea by the Greek coast guard, on direct orders from the Greek government. In this case the surprising part was that it was done so openly, in front of everyone in bright daylight, as if this was totally legal, it’s not, it’s actually a violation of international law and human rights law.
On December 16, at 04.15, 26 people, men, women and children, was found drifting in a life raft outside Menderes by the Turkish coast guard.
When comparing pictures and videos taken by locals on Lipsi, with pictures and videos taken by the Turkish coast guard when the group was found, there is absolutely no doubt, it’s the same group that was taken onboard the coast guard vessel in Lipsi. Also any local who was involved can easily identify this group as the people they helped on the island, if anyone would care to investigate.
Unfortunately these cases are never investigated, not by Greek authorities nor by the EU Commission. Instead Greek authorities are targeting people and organizations, who on a daily basis are documenting, investigating and publishing these crimes committed by Greek authorities, in an ongoing witch hunt to criminalize frontline defenders.
We who are trying to protect the rights of others, have become the target of ridicules and unfounded investigations, and are facing criminal charges for doing our job protecting refugees at the border of Europe.
Aegean Boat Report have systematically documented, investigated and published hundreds of cases of pushbacks performed by Greek authorities in the Aegean Sea over the last three years. This has not gone unnoticed, and we have frequently been the target of the Greek authorities systematic disinformation and propaganda campaigns, meant to slander and criminalize anyone who reveals their true nature.
Defending human rights is a human right!