17 Children Left Drifting At Sea

Twenty-five people, 17 of them small children, were arrested on Lesvos, beaten and abused before being set adrift on the open sea in the latest outrage carried out by uniformed Greek operatives. And the ‘crime’ committed by these 25 people, to justify their horrifying experience at the hands of people who are paid to save and safeguard human lives? Nothing at all. They were simply attempting to find a safe place to live, learn and work.

In the afternoon of Sunday, 9 January, a boat carrying 25 people landed south of Tsonia, Lesvos north east. Immediately after arriving, the group hid in the woods in the surrounding area, afraid that if found by police, they would be illegally returned to Turkey. At 17.00 they contacted Aegean Boat Report for assistance.

In the following hours they provided pictures, videos, voice messages and location data, to document their presence on Lesvos: there was no doubt that they were on the island.

The group desperately needed help, but despite my efforts to find someone, I was not able to locate anyone who could help them on Lesvos. Aegean Boat Report did a public post on social media, with an urgent appeal for help, but no organization came forward, nobody could protect any of these people, not even the 17 children.

There are many organizations who are eager to criticize when people are drowning in the Aegean Sea, pointing fingers towards those responsible. But when they have a chance to intervene, before people are put in potentially life-threatening situations, they say and do nothing.

Next time people are drowning in the Aegean Sea, these same organizations will again use the opportunity to “show their sympathy” with the victims, because it fits their “humanitarian profile”, it’s financially profitable to seem to be on the side of humanity. The word hypocrisy springs to mind.

But there are reasons as well.

On Lesvos, or any other island for that matter, there is nobody able to help, even if they wanted to, no local organizations, no NGOs, volunteers, journalists or lawyers, who would go to a location to help people who have just arrived, not even to document their presence. Because if they did, and the police found them, they risk arrested on site, charged with facilitating illegal entry to Greece, obstruction of police investigations and whatever other charges they might come up with, this just because they tried to help vulnerable people seeking safety in Europe.

This, unfortunately, is the reality on Europe’s borders. European politicians no longer defend ‘our European values’: those values are gone. They are just words without substance, used in speeches to make it look like they are doing something. They are not.

The group of 25 stayed hiding in the woods all night, waiting for daylight. It was cold, they had no dry clothes, food, or water. This was especially challenging for the many small children.

At first light on Monday 10 January, they started moving towards the nearest village, Tsonia, so they would be seen by locals, in the belief that public awareness would prevent the police from pushing them back.

At 08.00 on 10 January, Aegean Boat Report emailed organizations, NGO’s, authorities and the Greek ombudsman, to tell them the group would like to apply for asylum in Greece, and needed international protection. We received no reply. The letter was also published on Facebook and Twitter for public awareness:

“25 refugees arrived in Lesvos yesterday and were announced to the authorities, Greek ombudsman and UNHCR Greece by Aegean Boat Report this morning. We urged UNHCR and the Ombudsman to mediate directly to ensure that their human rights will be respected. 17 of the 25 people in the group are children”.

At 10.20, they arrived in the outskirts of the village, but were too scared to walk further. They saw several cars and local people.

One hour later, at 11.20, they informed Aegean Boat Report that the police had found them. All contact was then lost with the group, all phones went offline, all we could do was wait and hope that they would be taken to a camp. This didn’t happen. No new arrivals were registered by Lesvos’ authorities that day, or in the following days.

We later learned from local residents that police were driving around in the area in civilian cars – a grey minivan with four men in dark uniforms caught their particular attention. This car stopped in the outskirts of the village, and four men stepped out. All were wearing balaclavas, which locals would not use during harvest.

The car was filmed, and we can clearly see the license plate IZH:1548 on its back, as well as a man standing behind it.

The refugees later explained that four men in dark uniforms and balaclavas, all carrying guns, were the ones who had found them. After seeing pictures of the car, they confirmed it was the same one used by the “commandos” who found them.

When the people were found in the outskirts of Tsonia by these “commandos”, some of them tried to run away, one of the refugees said. Four shots were fired to force them back in line. Everyone was very scared, children were crying, it was an horrific ordeal.

People were held at gunpoint in this location for more than an hour. Everyone was searched by force, and all their belongings, bags, papers, money and phones were taken from them.

Locals in the area saw a big white van coming to the area around noon, and later driving away approximately one hour later, with the grey minivan ahead of it. All the refugees they had seen earlier were gone, so they assumed the van had taken them away.

The same white van has been used to transport refugees from several previous landings, and in all these cases people have been forcibly removed from the island, and pushed back to Turkey.

These “civilian” vehicles are known by Lesvos residents to be used by “secret police”, to blend in, but everyone knows the men inside them are military personnel on assignment from the Greek authorities to “hunt” refugees.

In late afternoon on Monday 10 January, Aegean Boat Report received a desperate voice message from one of the people in the group that we had spoken to on Lesvos earlier in the morning.

They had managed to hide one phone from the police on Lesvos, and had just enough power on the phone for an emergency call to the Turkish coast guard, and send a voice message to Aegean Boat Report. No location was received, and the phone was again offline.

We contacted the Turkish Coastguard (TCG) immediately, but without a location there wasn’t much they could do. TCG said they had not found anyone in the area around Lesvos, but they had just received information on a group of people in distress outside Seferihisar.

We discarded the possibility of it being the same group, due to the distance from Lesvos; they wouldn’t transport people over 200km to perform a pushback, we thought.

But after midnight, the Turkish Coastguard informed Aegean Boat Report that they had located and rescued the group we had contacted them about earlier: 25 people had been found drifting in a life raft outside Seferihisar, Turkey, including 17 children.

The Hellenic Coastguard had transported this group over 200km to be able to push them back, which shows the determination of the Greek authorities to remove anyone by any possible means.

So, why didn’t they just push them back outside Lesvos, as they usually do in these cases? The explanation is quite simple, the wind direction at the time was north west, and if they had placed the life raft in the sea it would have drifted back towards Greek waters.

Yesterday, we regained contact with the group, who are are now in a quarantine facility in Seferihisar, Turkey and they explained what really happened to them.

Their experience is just horrific.

The police found them in the outskirts of the village, where they were searched, and all their belongings were confiscated.

After an hour a white van arrived and everyone was forced into the back: “They treated us like garbage”, a woman told us. “They kicked and beat us, even some of the children got beaten”.

It was difficult to be sure, but they believe the car was driving for more than an hour. When it finally stopped, they were at some kind of harbour, where a small grey boat with two engines was waiting at a wooden pier.

When they came out of the van there were 10-15 masked men, all in dark uniforms, carrying guns. People were ordered to look down and stay quiet, and there was a lot of shouting. The children were crying, terrified of the masked men. The two-engined grey RIB took people out to a larger vessel in small groups. In the RIB, there were three masked men with guns.

The larger vessel was grey, with blue and white stripes in the front. After looking at pictures of vessels from the Hellenic Coastguard (HCG), they identified the boat as Sa’ar 4 class offshore patrol vessel belonging to the Hellenic Coastguard.

Everyone was placed outside in the middle of the boat they explained: “They put us under a white plastic tarpaulin, so that nobody could see us, and told us they would take us to Athens”.

This was of course a lie, but people wanted desperately to believe that it was true.

After 7-8 hours, the boat it stopped. It was dark outside and quite windy, and the HCG vessel was moved back and forth by the waves. A strange boat was put into the sea, they said: “Everyone was forced down in this boat, the boat had no engine, those who refused or didn’t move quickly enough was thrown down into the boat”.

Twenty-five people, 17 of them children, were forced into a life rafts by the Greek coast guard.

A woman explained that a small baby ended up in the sea: “The Greek police threw the baby down from the Greek ship, but missed the life raft, luckily we managed to get the baby back in the raft. Another girl was pushed down from the Greek ship, and broke her foot, it was barbaric, they enjoyed it, as if we were not humans.”

Around 22.00 on 10 January the group was left drifting in a life raft outside Seferihisar by the Hellenic coast guard. They managed to call for help, and one hour later, at 23.15, they were found and rescued by the Turkish Coastguard.

When they arrived in port in Seferihisar, two babies and a 13-year-old girl, Harir, were taken to hospital. The babies had respiratory problems, vomiting and fever, and Harir had a broken foot after being thrown from the Greek Coastguard vessel.

Several of the others had bruises and wounds. A boy aged 16 was beaten in his face, cut over his eyes and mouth, another had bruises all over his back after being beaten. A little girl showed her arm, full of bruises after being trampled by one of the masked men onboard the Greek Coastguard vessel.

After hearing their testimonies, seeing the pictures and videos, I can’t help feeling ashamed.

How can we explain this to anyone, when we do nothing to stop it: we let it happen.

There is absolutely no doubt who is responsible for these illegal pushbacks, and no doubt that the EU Commission and its representatives don’t and won’t lift a finger to try to stop these violations.

It’s an embarrassment, not only for the EU Commission, but for the whole of Europe.

This has been going on for more than 22 months. More than 25.000 people have been illegally pushed back in the Aegean Sea, 485 life rafts found drifting carrying 8,400 people, all at the hands of the Greek government, blessed and backed by the EU Commission.

These are violations of international law and human rights financed by EU taxpayers.

The EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, once said, “Pushbacks should never be normalised, pushbacks should never be legalized.”

But pushbacks are normalized, and happen every day in Greece, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, actually the whole Balkan route and the EU`s external border. It is illegal. It is immoral. It is barbarism, and we – the people of Greece, the people of Europe, and the people of the world, deserve much, much better.

Chios Pushback nr 99

Thursday afternoon a boat reported to be carrying 34 people landed south west of Keramia, Chios south east. We have later found information that indicates that the total number of people on this boat was 41.

After arriving they split up into four groups, and hid in the surrounding area, frightened that if found by police they would be illegally returned to Turkey.

Two groups, 8 and 6 people, who contacted Aegean Boat Report after arriving, stayed in the area over night. In the morning of Friday 31th of December, they moved towards Ag. Ermioni. A group of 8 people walked into the village, and down to the harbor, while 6 were skeptical, and remained on the road outside the village.

Locals on the area spotted the new arrivals, and most likely contact police, all contact with both groups in Ermioni was lost at noon this day, but before contact was lost they managed to send many pictures to document their presence in the village.

On December 31, a total of 14 people were officially registered as having arrived on Chios, we believe these 14 people were found in Ag. Ermioni, and not pushed back because too many locals had documented their presence. It would be very difficult for local police to deny that they had been in the village.

The two remaining groups, 23 and 4 people, moved towards the village of Neochorion, where they stayed over night next to the local kindergarten.

In the early hours of Friday they again contacted Aegean Boat Report, asking for help. They sent several videos, it was raining, the situation for the children was especially difficult.

The group continued walking, now on the main road towards Chios city center, but at 08.20 they were stopped by police. They sent several voice messages asking for help, unfortunately nobody could, they were in the hands of the Greek authorities.

We followed their last movements on live position on Whatsapp, it seemed that the police had moved them off the road and into a backyard of a villa in the area, and here, at 09.18, the phone went offline. It has not been online since.

We hoped that also these two groups would be taken to the quarantine facility on Chios, at the time all we could do was wait and hope for the best. Unfortunately only 14 people was registered in the quarantine facility, no new registrations were made in the following day.

When we posted information on their arrival that day, we knew that without assistance from local organizations they would most likely be illegally returned to Turkey. We wrote:

“The group contacted Aegean Boat Report for assistance, but we couldn’t find anyone on Chios to help them. The criminalization strategy by the Greek authorities is working perfectly, anyone assisting unregistered refugees will face criminal charges.

New arrivals in Greece face an imminent risk of being pushed back, in desperate need of protection, and nobody can legally protect them, that’s actually mind blowing, how could we end up at this point in Europe without anyone trying to stop it?

This group is as far as we know still in hiding in the woods, we can see them being online, but have for unknown reasons stoped replying.

Without assistance from people on location, and without organizations willing to assist, these vulnerable people will be left to their own fate.

We fear that if found by police, they will face a violent pushback, at gunpoint, by the hand of the Hellenic coast guard, as so many before them.

These men, women and children need protection now, but who can we turn to when even UNHCR refuses to help?”

The local online news Astraparis also posted about the new arrivals.

Yesterday we could confirm that these two groups, in which police had found and arrested, 27 people, men women and children, were stripped of all their belongings and forcibly removed from Chios by port police, on direct orders from the Greek government. In 2021 Aegean Boat Report has registered 629 cases of illegal pushbacks on the Greek Aegean Islands, 99 of them on Chios.

At 21.50, December 31, Turkish coast guard found and rescued 27 people from a life raft drifting outside Cesme, Turkey.

From pictures and videos taken while on Chios, and shared with Aegean Boat Report, there is absolutely no doubt that it’s the same people, there is also no doubt about who is responsible.

No help arrived, because there is no help for these people, the only thing Aegean Boat Report can do in cases like this, is to document, and later publish our findings.

Perhaps at some point in the future, these documented cases of pushbacks can lead to changes for the better. For the people in this pushback, and all the pushbacks in the coming weeks and months, there is no comfort in that, but we have to believe that things will change, at some point in the future. I have been telling myself this for weeks, months and years, and I’m losing hope that this will ever become reality. Since March 2020, almost 26.000 people have been pushed back by the hands of the Greek government in the Aegean Sea.

So is it plausible that they managed to do this, by themselves, without any “assistance”? First find a life raft, in an area where there is basically nothing but small fishing boats, then inflate it and paddle, because these life rafts have no engine, back towards the place they where fleeing from in the first place, in the dark. And yes, they most likely were paddling with their shoes, because when they were found they had no shoes, even the small child must have dropped his shoes in his effort to get them back to Turkey.

Not a very plausible explanation, but this is the explanation the Greek government wants you to believe, that they somehow managed, and wanted to go back to Turkey. A place so horrifying for them, that they took their children in a dangerous boat, to cross the deadliest stretch of water in Europe, in the dark, and for this they paid a smuggler thousands of Euros. Nobody is naive enough to believe that this was something they did by themselves, and I mean literally nobody, but nevertheless this is the Greek government’s explanation for this “phenomena”.

And we must by all means believe the Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, when he tells the international press, over and over again, that the Greek government is not responsible for these pushbacks, and say “If there’s any incident that needs to be explored, if there’s any exaggeration at any given point, I’m going to be the first to look into it,”, Well he never has..

Also the minister of migration and asylum Notis Mitarachi, have been eager to proclaim the Greek government’s innocence in these pushbacks, that the international press is paid and been manipulated by the Turkish government and the “criminal” NGOs, to publish unfounded accusations to smear the good name of Greece. He always, when asked of these pushbacks say, “Greece has a tough but fair’ border management policy, to protect the border of Europe”.

Artwork by Yorgos Konstantinou

In the last 22 months, 484 life rafts have been found drifting in the Aegean Sea carrying over 8,400 people. Nowhere on earth have so many life rafts been found at sea, in peace or war times, but strangely enough, European politicians seem to be unwilling to even address the issue.

The politicians we have elected to protect, as the Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson put it, “our fundamental European values”, seem to be fumbling at a time when Europe seems to be at a crossroads. We need to decide if Europe will continue to be a place where we protect people seeking safety, where international laws and human rights are upheld, or if we will continue to build a wall around Europe, where only the fortunate ones, with a golden ticket, will be allowed to enter.

The Shipwreck Of Civilization

In the middle of November, in the weekend between 12-14, at least five boats arrived on Samos, carrying a total of 141 people, a hectic weekend for organizations like Aegean Boat Report who try to document their arrival and assist so that people are not pushed back to Turkey.

Of the 141 people arriving this weekend that we knew about, only 48 people was registered as arrived on Samos by the Greek authorities, 93 men, women and children was forcibly removed from the island. (The Turkish coast guard found and picked up 118 people in the area around Samos in the same time period, so we assume that there were more than the five boats we had contacted with).

To try to support new arrivals without any support from organizations on the ground is in most cases impossible, it limits us to give advice, document and publish information to make public awareness. For most of the people arriving this weekend, our assistance was of little help, if any at all. My personal opinion, we failed miserably, and the once paying the price for our failure was the men, women and children pushed back.

Before first light on November 12, a boat carrying 31 people landed on Cape Praso, Samos north east. This is a remote area without any roads, and people started moving west in the dark, towards Vaty.

People from the group contacted several organizations for assistance, amongst them the Greek Helsinki Monitor and Aegean Boat Report. Advice was given to move towards the monastery of Zoodohos Pigi. Information was sent by email to several organizations, NGO’s, local authorities and the Greek ombudsman, to inform that the group wanted to apply for asylum.

One organizations agreed to go to the monastery this day, but for some reason they didn’t find anyone when they arrived. Perhaps there had been a misunderstanding, or the group was delayed. But when the group finally arrived the following morning at the monastery, Saturday morning, there were no organization there, only the police. Why police were there on this morning we don’t know, but we can assume that the organizations had alerted the authorities of the presence of new arrivals in this area.

Contact with this group was lost on Saturday morning, after they informed us that police was at the Monastery. What happened with the group is unknown, but eight of them was later this day found by the Turkish coast guard in a rocky area of Kusadasi, claiming that the Greek Coast Guard had removed them from Samos.

From pictures published by the Turkish coast guard, we have positively identified the 8 people to be from the group of 31 that arrived on Cape Praso the previous day.

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On Saturday morning another boat carrying 17 people arriving on Livadaki Beach, Samos north east. The group contact Aegean Boat Report for assistance.

The group sent pictures, videos and location data, there was no doubt of their presence on Samos.

A local asset on Samos went to the location and found the group, first some on the dirt track, afterwards the rest of the group hiding in the surrounding areas. They were very scared, and didn’t trust anyone, the asset on location wasn’t able to convince them that it was there with good intentions, and pulled back.

Leaving the are a yellow car was observed picking up four of the new arrivals, later the car came back and picked up more people. Who was driving this car, and where the people were taken to is not known, but it was not a car belonging to the authorities.

If this yellow car picked up everyone from this landing, or what happened to the rest we have not been able to determine, but several days later, on November 16, 17 people was registered as arrived on Samos, if it was people from this group, we actually don’t know.

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At the same time another boat landed close to Isomata, Samos south west carrying 26 people.

The group contacted the Greek Helsinki Monitor for assistance, and a new email was sent to local organizations, NGO’s, local authorities and the Greek Ombudsman, containing 18 people from this group asking to be able to apply for asylum.

The following day, November 15, 28 people was officially registered by Greek authorities as arrived on Samos, we believe that 26 of them came from the arrivals in Isomata the previous day.

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In the early hours of November 13, more boas arrived on Samos, this time in the north west, one in Potami carrying 27 people and one in Paralia Megalo, carrying 36 people.

People from the Potami landing contacted Aegean Boat Report for assistance, they also contacted other organizations like the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), who collected personal information from all 27. GHM sent an email to organizations, NGO’s, authorities, the Greek ombudsman etc, to inform that the group would like to apply for asylum in Greece.

From pictures, videos and location data received by Aegean Boat Report from the arrivals in Potami, there was no doubt that they were in Potami, Samos north west.

We remained in contact with the group throughout Saturday, until midday Sunday, when contacted with the group was lost. We could assume that they might have run out of power on their phones, all at once, but more likely was that police had found them, and confiscated their phones, as they usually do.

We didn’t manage to get any help for this group, nobody on Samos was willing to try to give any assistance for these vulnerable people, in fear of repercussions from the Greek authorities. This is usually the case on most Greek islands, nobody wants to help, most in fear of their own safety, the prospect of being arrested isn’t very appealing.

There is of course also other reasons why some of these organizations on the Greek Aegean islands isn’t very interested in helping. If you look at their pages online you would find no criticism towards the Greek government, camp situation, human right violations or pushbacks. They are in fact willing to close their eyes to all of this, to have the opportunity to continue to work inside these camps, because it’s financially very profitable, especially for the founders. It’s not unusual for a relatively small organization to have founders with fancy titles like «Secretary General, CEO», and a salary that matches. Everything might look good from the outside, but if anyone starts to really look into these organizations, things might change a bit, especially their attitude towards the one trying to expose them for what they really are, they get really nasty really fast.

In the early hours of November 16, at 03.10, the Turkish coast guard found and rescued 27 people from a life raft drifting outside Kusadasi, Turkey. Many of the people rescued were children, and in the group there were three pregnant women.

From pictures and videos provided by the refugees while on Samos, compared with footage published by the Turkish coast guard, there is no doubt, it’s the same group that was in Palio, Samos north east.

From testimonies from the people onboard the life raft, there is no doubt on who placed them in this potentially life treating situation. They had been arrested by police on Samos, held on the island until dark and forced back to sea at gunpoint. Many very brutally beaten, all belongings was taken, money, phones and papers confiscated by Greek police, before abandoned in a life raft by the Hellenic coast guard, on direct orders from the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

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The fifth boat this Weekend arrived in Paralia Megalo Saturday morning, and was reported to be carrying 36 people.

After arriving the group split up in several smaller groups, some went into hiding in the surrounding areas, but one group of 6 people started moving east in the dark.

The group was found by police in the outskirts of Potami in the afternoon on Saturday and all contact was lost. At 08.45, November 14, Turkish coast guard reported to have spotted 6 people on land in an remote area in Kusadasi. From pictures taken on Samos compared to pictures published by the Turkish coast guard of those found in Kusadasi the following morning,we have positively identified all 6.

On Monday morning, November 15, 06.20 an, a group of 13 people was picked up from a life raft drifting outside Seferihisar, Turkey. These 13 was identified as being a part of the group from the landing in Paralia Megalo on Saturday.

The remaining 17 people from this group we have not been able to track, some might be amongst those who where registered as arrived in the quarantine structure on Samos. Between 13.11.2021-17.11.2021 a total of 54 people was registered, 28 on November 15 and 17 on November 16, but more likely amongst the 93 pushed back this weekend.

This is unfortunately the reality on the borders of Europe today, Europe politicians no longer defends our European values, these values are gone, they are just words without substance, used in speeches to make it look like they are doing something, they are not.

Artwork by Yorgos Konstantinou

There is absolutely no doubt who is responsible for this illegal pushbacks, and it’s also no doubt that the EU Commission and it’s representatives won’t lift a finger to try to stop these violations, it’s an embarrassment, not only for the EU commission, but for the whole of Europe.

This has been going on for over 19 months, 25.000 people have been illegally pushed back in the Aegean Sea, 450 life rafts found drifting carrying 8000 people, all by the hands of the Greek government, blessed by the EU Commission. Violations of international laws and human rights financed by EU taxpayers money.

Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson is using fancy words in a speech at the plenary debate on pushbacks at the EU external border, “Pushbacks should never be normalised. Pushbacks should never be legalized”, unfortunately both are a lie.

Pushbacks are in deed normalized, the results we can see in Greece, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Polen, actually the whole Balkan route and the external border to The EU.

To say that pushbacks never should be legalized on one side, and finance it on the other side seems strangely contradictory. Frontex presence on the border of the EU is massive, never before in the history of Frontex has more troops been deployed at the EU border, state of the art technology and surveillance systems, but despite all this, they haven’t reported one single pushback, no violations of human rights, nothing, doesn’t anyone find that a bit odd?

Perhaps it’s difficult to report on something that they are a part of, but for EU politicians to try to make it as this is not their policy, not their responsibility, lying and trying to disguise the truth, it’s an embarrassment.

This is “the shipwreck of civilization”, performed in our name, on our watch.

Robbed, Beaten And Abused

Forty-four men, women and children were robbed, beaten and abused before being set adrift on the open sea in the latest outrage carried out by uniformed Greek operatives.

And the ‘crime’ committed by these 44 people, to justify their horrifying experience at the hands of people who are paid to save and safeguard human lives? Nothing at all. They were simply attempting to find a safe place to live, learn and work.

At 11.48pm (EET) on 14 November, 44 people on a sailboat in distress, north west of Stavri, Peloponnese, contacted Aegean Boat Report.

The smuggler who had sailed the boat from Turkey towards Italy had abandoned them after the boat’s engine malfunctioned, leaving them drifting helplessly dangerously close to the cliffs in the area.
The weather was rough: heavy wind and waves were pushing the boat towards land. The situation was critical.

Aegean Boat Report told the passengers to contact emergency services on 112 immediately, and at the same time we called the Ministry of Shipping & Island Policy in Piraeus.

The call was immediately rerouted to the emergency call centre of the Hellenic coast guard.

Usually, a distress call to any emergency service in Europe doesn’t take more than a minute: information is provided, some questions are asked about who is calling, the location, situation etc., and help is on its way.

When calling the Hellenic coast guard on cases involving refugees in distress, however, the situation is quite different.

They are normally more interested in who you are and how you know something is happening, than in the emergency you are trying to help with, wasting precious time when you have none to spare.

It took me 10 minutes to make this call, and most of the questions the operator asked were about me, not the emergency I was desperately trying to get help for.

In many calls I have made over the years to the Hellenic coast guard to alert them about emergencies at sea, it’s not only the time waisted in pointless interrogations that is frustrating: in many cases SAR operations are deliberately delayed for hours, and people drown as a result.

In this case they actually responded. At 01.40am, people onboard the sailboat told Aegean Boat Report that rescue had arrived, and sent several videos of a Lambro 57 coastal patrol boat with search lights in front of them, belonging to the port police in Kalamáta.

Normally, Aegean Boat Report doesn’t intervene in this sort of situation. But because of the dramatic situation and the imminent threat the boat might crash into the nearby cliffs, I made a call to assist, to try to get this sailboat to a safer location to avoid unnecessary loss of life.

The boat was dangerously close to the rocky peninsula at the sheltered bay of Mezapos north from the Cape Cavo Grosso of Mani, at one point only fifty meters from the cliffs.

The wind and waves coming from the west pushed the boat towards the peninsula, and the people onboard were panicking.

In the dark, without lights, it’s very difficult to navigate these waters, even for a skilled sailor. To get people who had never been on a sailboat before, with poor English skills, listening to instructions over the phone, to guide the boat to safety, seemed like an impossible undertaking.

Perhaps we had help from above, that someone took pity on these desperate souls, who knows, but they managed to clear the cape, and move the sailboat into the sheltered bay of Mezapos and set anchor.

Here, they waited to be rescued: to take the sailboat towards land was too dangerous, underwater rocky outcrops in the area could have capsized the boat.

For one hour people onboard waited for rescue, sent out from Kalamáta, 33 nautical miles away.

For a Lambro 57, this journey would take 45 minutes under perfect conditions and at max speed of 50 knots. In this specific case I believe that the Hellenic coast guard actually did their job, getting to location as fast as they could. But what followed is unfortunately a different story.

The Hellenic coast guard did not transfer the people onto their vessel. Instead, at 3am, they started towing the sailboat towards Kalamáta.

The weather wasn’t good, and the people on the sailboat were given no information about what was happening. They were scared of what would happen to them.

For the next six hours, two vessels from HCG towed the sailboat towards Kalamáta.

Aegean Boat Report had contact with the group throughout the night.

Several times while they were being towed, the rope used was destroyed, but at 9am they arrived in the Gulf of Kalamáta.

The people onboard had still not received any information from HCG on what would happen to them.

At 10.45 am, on 15 November, the people on the boat told Aegean Boat Report that a larger Greek coast guard vessel had arrived alongside them. Soon after, all contact with the group was lost, and the number used has been offline since.

That we lost contact with the people onboard the sailboat could just be them running out of power on their phones after a long night, but we found it worrying that this happened at the same time as a vessel from the Hellenic coast guard arrived alongside the boat.

We took comfort in the fact that HCG had responded to the emergency call rather quickly, and that they had towed the sailboat for six hours, 33 nautical miles, from Mezapos to Kalamáta, seemingly towards a port of safety.

Several days passed, and we weren’t able to reconnect with the group, which seemed suspicious because normally if people are taken to a camp, they recharge their phones.

There was also no information suggesting that people had been taken into Kalamáta, an area in which this kind of activity would usually make some headlines.

On Wednesday morning, 17 November, we made some inquiries, first to HCG headquarters in Piraeus, then port police in Kalamáta. Strangely, both said the same thing: they had no information on record of an incident outside Mezapos, and HCG had towed no boat to Kalamáta on the day in question, or the following days.

This confirmed our suspicion. People from this boat had been pushed back.

On 16 November, the Turkish coast guard published a case about 44 people found drifting in two life rafts outside Datcha, Turkey.

The photos the Turkish coastguard published were of too low quality to be useful, and a request was sent to see if they could provide additional footage.

It was actually difficult to believe that anyone would go to such lengths to push people back, to transport people across the Aegean Sea, over 600km, but we continued searching for them, in hope that we could figure out what really happened.

On 19 November, a number previously active on Whatsapp from the sailboat outside Kalamáta came online again.

We could finally get information about what really happened to this group, and what this man told us was just horrific.

In the morning of 15 November, a vessel from the Hellenic coast guard arrived and pulled up alongside the sailboat outside Kalamáta.

On the HCG vessel’s deck was a large group of armed masked men, in commando-like outfits with no officer numbers or other markings. They shouted that everyone had to come out of the boat, keep their hands up and be quiet.

They started transferring people from the sailboat at gunpoint, one by one, frisking everyone, removing their bags, taking papers, phones and money. Everything they found was confiscated.
This was done by force, shouting, hitting people who didn’t follow their instructions, even those who did everything they asked were beaten, including women and children. Nobody was spared. “They were taking special interest in the women, ripping up their clothes in front of everyone”, the man said. ‘It was just a nightmare. I thought they were going to kill us.’

After everyone was onboard the coast guard ship, a 12 hour-long nightmare started.

People were abused, men and women were randomly removed from the group, beaten and brought back. The “commandos” had them guarded at all times, at gunpoint, and no-one was allowed to speak, or even look up.

No food or water was provided, even for the children. Everything was done to make this as hard as humanly possible for these people.

After more than 12 hours onboard the coast guard vessel everyone was forced into two life rafts. Those who refused were beaten and kicked. This is inhuman treatment by any standard, but they are only following orders, right? Why not enjoy it while doing so?

The idea is probably that if they treat them inhumanly enough, this will scare off others, and fewer people will try to cross the borders into Greece.

After hours drifting helplessly in the Aegean Sea in two life rafts, they were spotted by a Turkish fishing boat, and the Turkish coast guard was alerted.

At 6am 44 people, 41 Afghans, 2 Ukranians and 1 Iranian were found on the water outside Datcha, Turkey.

The people onboard the life rafts had no way to alert rescue services themselves, as all their phones had been confiscated by the Hellenic coast guard.

From pictures and videos provided from the people onboard the sailboat, there is absolutely no doubt that it was the same people who was found and picked up from two life rafts outside Datcha.

The problem is, we keep writing about incidents like this. And we will continue to do so until they stop happening.

We note that the law is extraordinarily-clear: every man, woman and child on Earth is absolutely entitled to travel to anywhere they want to, with or without paperwork, in order to apply for asylum.

The country that they reach must allow them to enter, and must treat their asylum applications with seriousness and care – even if they choose in the end to deny them the right to remain.

But cases like this go way beyond conversations about international law – however simple and clear those laws might be.

Because what the Greek government is doing – with the full backing on the European Union – is using its coastguard, which is supposed to rescue and protect people, instead to beat them, steal their possessions, humiliate and abuse them, before setting them adrift on the open sea.

You do not need to be an expert on international – or any other kind of – law to know that this is illegal, or indeed that it is wrong.

We are living through a period in which in the EU’s south-easternmost corner, a life-saving service has been replaced with uniformed thugs. An emergency response operation has become a militia.

Should the human race survive long enough, people will look back at this and ask: ‘How?’ How could the wealthiest political unit ever to have existed have sunk to such depths that it would allow one of its member states to savage vulnerable men, women and children in this way?

How was a government allowed to pervert a life-saving service and turn it into a violent sea militia?
And how did people stand by and let it happen?

Because that is what is happening. It is happening now, on our ‘watch’. And we will be correctly judged as inhuman if we keep sitting back and letting it continue.

Have We Learned Nothing From Our Previous Mistakes?

In the early hours of Saturday, 20 November, a boat carrying 34 people landed north east of Ákra Agreliós, Lesvos south. Immediately after arriving, the group hid in the woods in the surrounding area, afraid that if found by police, they would return them illegally to Turkey.

At 04.45 they contacted Aegean Boat Report for assistance, asking for help, they had nobody they could trust, and asked for advice on how to be taken to a camp, they wanted to apply for asylum.

In the following hours they provide pictures, videos, voice messages and location data, to document their presence on Lesvos, there was no doubt that they in fact was on the island.

At 10.31 the Greek Helsinki Monitor sent an email to the authorities, UNHCR, the Greek Ombudsman and NGOs to inform of their presence, and that the new arrivals wanted to apply for asylum. Their location was not reviled, to avoid that they were found by police and removed from the island, hopefully someone would intervene, unfortunately this did not happen.

Throughout the day and afternoon Aegean Boat Report had contact with the group, they had now split up, only 19 people, 4 children, 5 women and 10 men remained from the original 34, where the remaining 15 people had gone they didn’t know.

At 21.30 the group started moving north, away from a location they found to be unsafe, due to the inhabitants close to their hideout. Walking in the woods in the dark, is difficult, especially when you do not know the area, and can’t use any lights in fear of being spotted by police.

The group walked most of the night, and at first light they contacted Aegean Boat Report again, this time, at 06.45 on Sunday morning, gave a new location, this time south west of Agrilia Kratigou. The group had found five people who had left them the day before, now they were 23 people, 4 children, 4 women and 15 men. One of the women in the group had left at night in the dark, leaving her child behind, she was not seen again.

Throughout Sunday the group walked north until they found a dirt track south west of the Airport at 20.30. They started following this road west, and at 22.42 Aegean Boat Report received a new location, this time close to the Church Ekklisia Panagia Amáli.

Aegean Boat Report had tried to advise them not to walk further away from populated areas, from the first time they made contact. We firmly believe that their best chances to avoid illegal pushbacks, is to be seen by locals. This group constantly did the opposite of what we advised them to do, to scared to even trust the people they had asked to help them. Now they were in the middle of the woods, far away from the eyes of the public, and by doing so in more danger than ever before.

The church is a well known landmark on Lesvos, and they sent several pictures of them in front of the Church, it would now be extremely difficult to deny their presence on the island, or impossible. If found and returned illegally, it would be difficult for local authorities to say that they had found no people at this church, nevertheless they did.

At Monday morning, November 22, 06.20, Aegean Boat Report spoke with the group. They were hiding in the woods close to the church, they could see a car pulling up in front of the church, they believed it was the police. At 07.09 all contact with the group was lost, and the phones haven’t been turned on since.

After several days on Lesvos, hiding in the woods, with no support, no food and water, we hoped that the group had been found with the intention to take them to a safe place, provide support and be given the opportunity to apply for asylum, unfortunately this didn’t happen.

At 03.55 am, on November 23, the Turkish coast guard found and rescued 23 people, 4 children, 4 women and 15 men from a life raft drifting outside Seferihisar, Turkey. They all claimed to have been on Lesvos for several days, before being arrested by Greek police and taken back out to sea.

From one single picture published by the Turkish coast guard, we can positively identify 12 people from the group that had arrived on Lesvos on November 20, this was the group we had followed for two days.

Comparing pictures, identifying people, is many times difficult and time consuming, often because of the quality of the material provided. This time it was actually quite straight forward, due to the fact that the group had constantly sent pictures of themselves and their surroundings.

From the group of 34, 23 people, men, women and children had been forcibly removed from a Greek island, robbed of all belongings, bags, papers, money and phones, taken onboard a Greek coast guard vessel and left drifting in a life raft by the Hellenic coast guard. To be able to perform these atrocities the Greek coast guard would need a special kind of people, cruel and sadistic, without remorse, the kind of people who we thought we never would see again in Europe after the Second World War, but her we are again, it seems that we have learned nothing from our previous mistakes.

The remaining 11 people from this group we believe mostly have been registered in Maurovouni quarantine facility on Lesvos, two arrived on Monday and eight on Wednesday, all by walking directly to the camp. The missing mother from the group we have no information on so far. An additional 16 people was registered on Wednesday from a separate landing. Strangely enough the Greek government seems to have listed all 26 as arrived in camp on Wednesday, and nobody the previous days, for what reasons, besides incompetence, we don`t know.

Information sent out to UNHCR and the Greek Ombudsman had zero effect, the group even tried to send messages directly to the Greek UNHCR Protection Helpline, they didn’t get any reply, they were met with silence. What UNHCR Greece is protecting is difficult to say, most likely their fat salaries, but certainly not vulnerable people seeking protection.

This case was published by Aegean Boat Report, Greek Helsinki Monitor and local newspapers, it was online on websites, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, seen by thousands of people, hundreds of NGOs, many who are present on Lesvos, but nobody stepped up, nobody intervened, this is shocking. Where are the organizations claiming to be “monitoring the borders”, protecting vulnerable people, and what practical significance do they have, besides posting statistics and big words in fancy reports now and then? Whenever they are called upon to actually do some work, to actually get their hands dirty, they act like headless chickens, running around without any purpose or meaning, in my book they are a joke, and should probably close down their operation, they are actually doing more harm than good. The organizations founded on the pillars to protect the most vulnerable people, turner’s their back every single day on the very people they were supposed to protect in the first place, with the excuses of “protecting” their operation. Unfortunately these “operations” are often done in a way that brings in huge funds, especially for the organizations founders, who have fancy titles and a salary that matches the title.