Pushback Nr. 460

4 of June at 02.00 a boat carrying 44 people, many of them very small children, started out from Sazli, Turkey, heading towards Lesvos north.

The trip lasted for five hours, people onboard was afraid that the Greek coast guard would find them at sea and push them back, especially after first light, but luckily they managed to cross without being spotted.

44 People traveling towards Lesvos 04.06.2021

At 07.00 they landed north west of Tsonia, Lesvos north east. They destroyed the rubber boat on the beach, before they split up in several smaller groups, and fled to the woods in the area, frightened that the greek police would find them and returner them to Turkey.

44 People arriving on Lesvos 04.06.2021

Aegean Boat Report had contact with people from several of these groups, hiding in different locations in the area. Between 08.30 and 10.40 we lost contact with all the groups, we feared that they had been found by police, and that they wouldn’t take them to any camp.

Aegean Boat Report received pictures, videos and location data, there was no doubt, they had arrived on Lesvos. From pictures and videos received we can clearly see the area, several locals who knows the area have confirmed that it’s no doubt that this was north west of Tsonia.

For several days we actually didn’t know exactly what happened to them, nobody was registered as arrived on Lesvos, once again large numbers of people, many of them children, had magically disappeared.

Pictures and videos published by the Turkish coast guard several days later solved the mystery. 44 people was picked up from a life raft, drifting north west of Dikili, on June 4 at 18.40. When comparing the people in the video’s, there is no doubt, the people filmed on the ground on Lesvos was identical with the people rescued from the life raft outside Dikili.

44 People rescued by TCG outside Dikili 04.06.2021

Some people argue that they most likely have returned themselves, without any assistance from the Greek authorities, not a very plausible explanation. First they needed to find a life raft, not easy in this area I guess, then paddle with their hands over 31 nautical miles, in head winds and against the current, ah, yes, and in brought daylight without anyone noticing them, to try to get back from where they were fleeing from in the first place… I guess we can rule that one out, this was another pushback by the Hellenic coast guard.

Distance from arrival location to location picked up by TCG

Information received from people in the group, was that they were beaten, robbed of all their belongings, bags, money, phones etc. by masked men in military uniforms, before forced on a Greek coast guard vessel.

How people, who most likely have their own family, children, could do this to people, and especially small children, is beyond me. How can they look themselves in the mirror knowing that they are torturing people on a daily basis.

It’s time for European politicians to take off their blindfolds, it’s time to see that what is going on on the borders of Europe is a crime against humanity, to say “we didn’t know” is no longer an option.We must stop pretending that this doesn’t concern us, that’s it’s “their” rights that are being violated, not ours.

It is an attack on us all: when a government strips a Somali teen, a Syrian child, an Iraqi man, an Afghan woman of their human rights, you have to know that they are reserving the right to do the same to you, to your son, daughter, brother, sister, parents, grandfather and grandmother.

Those rights belong to us all: once they are taken from one of us, they can be taken from us all. It must stop. We cannot simply turn a blind eye to this – the disgrace of Europe. Instead, we must stand, together, and demand better: from our governments, from the EU, from the international community.

The Greek government must stop pretending to ‘know nothing’ about a practice which is clearly its policy. It must stop pretending that every NGO operating in Greece, as well as the UN, international media and the European Council’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, are in fact somehow ‘employees of’ or collaborators in, Turkish ‘propaganda’.

It must, immediately – as Greece’s Ombudsman has concluded and demands – open public and accessible investigations into the actions of its own uniformed officers in illegally expelling men, women and children seeking decent places to live.

It must end this shameful, illegal, dehumanising, embarrassing and unacceptable practice.

Pushback Nr. 451

On May 28, at around 6am, a boat that was reported to have been carrying 54 people, 37 adults and 17 children, landed north of Panagiouda, Lesvos south around 06.00.

It later became clear that in fact the boat had been carrying 49 people.

Boat carrying 49 people towards Lesvos 28.05.2021

Immediately after arrival, they split into two groups and hid in woods in the area, scared that they would be found by police and illegally returned to Turkey.

A farmer in the area spotted one of the groups early in the morning, and called the police. The police located 32 people, and took them away in the back of a white van.

None of these people were registered in the quarantine camps on Lesvos, either on 28 May or any subsequent day. “We were ordered to give away all our belongings, clothes, bags, phones and money, those who refused were beaten”, one of the group explained.

Everyone was searched, some more brutally and extensively than others, men, women and even children, they all got the same treatment. When the police found some phones the people had hidden, they got very angry, again hitting the people who had tried to hide the phones from them.

There were 12 port police officers present. Most of them were wearing masks, the ones without stayed at a distance.

A white van arrived and everyone was ordered into the back, leaving all their belongings behind. The back of the van had no windows.

The van drove for around five minutes, and arrived at a beach, when a similar white van arrived. The group was transferred into the second van – 32 people packed in, without any ventilation.

The next journey took more than an hour: “We didn’t get any food or water, not even the children or women”, the same person said. “It was a hot day.”

They arrived at another beach, the location of which they didn’t know. All they could see was trees and the sea.

After 30 minutes, they saw a big grey military vessel approaching. Two RIBs were launched, and moved quickly towards the beach, where the police stood over the people.

The men in the rescue RIBs searched everyone, again. These men were wearing dark blue uniforms, with no distinguishing features. They were wearing balaclavas and carrying guns.

The group was split in two, and placed on the RIBs, which moved at high speed towards the Greek coast guard vessel waiting a few kilometres from land.

The speedboats took them to a larger grey military vessel.

The group could not look at the boat properly, in part because if they looked up they were hit with batons from behind. The men in balaclavas constantly screamed: “Look down and shut up,” terrifying the men, women and children.

The group said the boat was grey, with blue and white stripes in the front, and carried the Greek flag.

Everyone was placed outside in the front of the boat, they were not allowed to talk or look up, the officers were constantly screaming, and those who didn’t obey were beaten again.

The coast guard vessel has not been positively identified, but after looking at several pictures, the group said it was similar to the Vosper Europatrol 250MK1 class offshore patrol vessel of the Hellenic coast guard.

They were onboard for several hours, in which time the Hellenic coast guard vessel took them towards Turkey.

When the boat stopped, they were forced into a life raft, and an RIB that was lowered from the coast guard vessel was used to tow the life raft into Turkish waters.

At 1pm, the Turkish coastguard found the life raft, with the 32 people aboard, drifting close to Cesme, Turkey. The people onboard said they had been drifting for two hours.

These people had been forcibly removed from Lesvos, left drifting in a life raft in the Aegean Sea, illegally deported by the Hellenic coast guard.

The second group of people – the 17 who were not illegally pushed back from Lesvos to Turkey – walked to Panagiouda, and were found by police around 2pm. Several local people had seen them next to the main road and called the police.

The police transported the 17 people, 4 adults and 13 children, to the quarantine camp in Maurovouni.

From pictures and videos taken from the boat before they arrived on Lesvos, we can clearly see that it carried considerably more than 17 people.

There is also no doubt that they arrived on land on Lesvos, since seventeen of the people from the boat are now in the quarantine camp on Lesvos.

But the rest – 32 people – are back in Turkey. From pictures and videos taken from the boat that arrived on Lesvos, Aegean Boat Report have identified several people who also appear in the footage published later by the Turkish coast guard, of the group they picked up on the life raft outside Cesme. There is no doubt that these are the same people.

Life raft carrying 32 people rescued by Turkish coast guard.

There is also no doubt who is behind this illegal deportation.

We say increasingly often that these pushbacks are illegal. This is true under international law, to which Greece is a signatory. It is true under EU law, which Greece as a member state has also signed up. It is also true under Greek law, as the Greek government is well aware.

We cannot and will not state that this is connected to pushbacks, but it is extremely interesting to note that as increasing numbers of Greek and international organisations, the EU Council, the United Nations and the independent Greek Ombudsman demand that the Greek government at least allows the legal system to hear cases of alleged pushbacks of men, women and children by uniformed Greek officers, the Ministry of Migration issued on Tuesday a memo threatening any Ministry employee not to testify in court in any hearing related to alleged Ministry wrongdoing.

We do not know whether or when these extremely serious and important allegations will be heard by the Greek judiciary, but we do note with concern that it is illegal to threaten witnesses to prevent them testifying in court.

We hope that should any cases be heard, the court will dismiss the memo, and allow legal due process to take place.

Any alternative would be not only to undermine the fundamental rights of every person on Earth – as is being done every time a pushback is carried out – but also the legal rights and protections of the Greek public, and indeed the very foundations on which the Greek state is built.

These are som of the people who was illegaly pushed back from Lesvos on May 28 by the Hellenic Coast Guard, picture is taken in Izmir, Tyrkey May 30. It`s not statistics or numbers, It`s real people.

Some of the pushback victims May 30, Izmir, Turkey.

It MUST be stopped!

The illegal Practice Continues

In the early hours of Sunday 16 May, a rubber boat set out from Cumhuriyet, Seferihisar, Turkey, carrying 32 people, nine children, seven women and 16 men.

After several hours at sea, they approached the island of Samos. In the videos they sent us, we can clearly see Samos in the background.

Samos 16.05.2021

While approaching the island, they took several videos and sent them to Aegean Boat Report, to try to document their arrival on Samos.

Samos 16.05.2021

At 7.30am, they landed on Kouroudere beach, east of Ag. Nikolaos, Samos north west. From the pictures, videos and location data, there is no doubt that the group arrived on Samos.

Samos 16.05.2021

Shortly after they landed, several cars with police officers arrived. They all pulled on balaclavas, before heading down towards the group. A witness counted 11 officers: 10 men and one woman.

Everyone in the group was forcibly frisked, and the police seized their personal belongings, papers, money and phones. Those who resisted were brutally beaten by uniformed officers, according to one of the new arrivals.

After everyone was thoroughly searched, the officers put the travellers into a white van, and drove for over one hour, to an unknown destination. There was no window in the back of the van, and no food or water were provided, not even for the small children.

They arrived in a port, and the only thing they could see was a concrete pier, and an orange and blue boat with the number 513 written on the side. One said that he could see many houses in the distance, but he was forced to look down by the police. When anyone looked up, the officers beat the people with batons.

They were pushed onto a boat, which moved quickly out to sea.

The people were placed in the front of the boat, outside, and anyone who tried to talk or who raised their head was beaten. The officers onboard were standing above the people, guarding them, all wearing balaclavas. There was a lot of shouting to keep people quiet, and one man described it as ‘terrifying’, especially for the small children, who cried because they couldn’t understand what was happening: how could they?

 Lambro Halmatic 60, SAR vessel Nr 513, belonging to the Hellenic coast guard, stationed on Samos

After a period that seemed like an hour, the boat stopped. Something was happening at the back of the boat, but the people weren’t able to see what. Two men came to the deck and shouted “get up, get up!” Everyone did as they were told. One by one, they were taken in the back of the boat. ‘We could hear officers shouting and women and children screaming,’ the man said. ‘It was a true nightmare.’

The people were forced into a strange tent-shaped rubber “boat”. Anyone who refused to get in was brutally beaten, and thrown in. They said that they could only see five officers on deck, in dark blue uniforms and balaclavas, but there were probably more people inside.

‘In only a few minutes, the Greek ship went away,’ the man explained. ‘We were left drifting in the sea. I was scared, everyone was. We had no phones and we couldn’t call for help.’

Later that day, two life rafts carrying 32 people, nine children, seven women and 16 men, were picked up by the Turkish coast guard south west of Seferihisar, Turkey. From videos and pictures, there is no doubt these are the same people who earlier that day had arrived on Samos.

In this video, published by the Turkish coast guard, we can see a Lambro Halmatic 60, SAR vessel Nr 513, belonging to the Hellenic coast guard, stationed on Samos. They deploy two life rafts filled with 32 people, many of them small children, and leave in great haste.

Video from TCG 16.05.2021 Seferihisar, Turky

So how can the Greek government continue to deny having any involvement in pushbacks, when we have seen vessels from the Hellenic Coast Guard, over and over again, actively and illegally deporting men, women and children in the Aegean Sea?

It’s time for European politicians to take off their blindfolds, it’s time to see that what is going on on the borders of Europe is a crime against humanity. To say “we didn’t know” is no longer an option. We must stop pretending that this doesn’t concern us, that’s it’s “their” rights that are being violated, not ours.

The Hellenic coast guard performing illegal pushbacks in the Aegean Sea

It is an attack on us all: when a government strips a Somali teen, a Syrian child, an Iraqi man, an Afghan woman of their human rights, you have to know they are reserving the right to do the same to you, to your son, daughter, brother, sister, parents, grandfather and grandmother.

Those rights belong to us all: once they are taken from one of us, they can be taken from us all. It must stop. We cannot simply turn a blind eye to this – the disgrace of Europe. Instead, we must stand, together, and demand better: from our governments, from the EU, from the international community.

The Greek government must stop pretending to ‘know nothing’ about a practice which is clearly its policy. It must stop pretending that every NGO operating in Greece, as well as the UN, international media and the European Council’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, are in fact somehow ‘employees of’ or collaborators in, Turkish ‘propaganda’.

It must, immediately – as Greece’s Ombudsman has concluded and demands – open public and accessible investigations into the actions of its own uniformed officers in illegally expelling men, women and children seeking decent places to live.

It must end this shameful, illegal, dehumanising, embarrassing and unacceptable practice.

Fifty-three more men, women and children have been lied to, beaten and expelled from Greece by uniformed police officers who told them they would be taken for COVID testing and quarantine.

At 9am on 26 April, a boat carrying 53 people landed on Agios Theodorous beach, east of Korakas, in north Lesvos. Thirty-five of the 53 travelling people were reported to be children. The group contacted Aegean Boat Report so their arrival could be documented.

Boat carrying 53 people towards Lesvos north
Arrival Location Lesvos North East

They reported no medical needs, and because of this and the Greek government’s policy of illegally pushing men, women and children away from Greece’s borders, we did not inform the port police.

Arrivals on Lesvos north 26.04.2021

Instead, we advised the group to move together towards the village of Klio, so the villagers could see their arrival. Pictures, videos and location data received by the Aegean Boat Report show their presence on Lesvos: there is no doubt they arrived.

Due to the high number of very small children in the group, and three pregnant women, they moved slowly forward. They frequently sent their location, and they could also be followed on live location that was active. We received their pictures and videos while they moved towards the village.

We could draw up this rout from locasions sent over whatsapp

A local person saw the new arrivals while walking towards Klio, and informed the port police of their whereabouts. Those police found the first people from the group on a dirt track at around 13.30, and from then it took them around one hour to round up all the 53 arrivals.

The police told the group they would be taken to a quarantine camp for COVID testing. Information from the arrivals had been sent to us from six different phone numbers. Between 13.37 and 14.23, all went offline. This could of course be a coincidence: they might all have run out of battery, or lost internet coverage. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The port police officers confiscated all their phones, so the group could not record what was about to happen.

We monitored quarantine camps’ information on arrivals, to see if the police had taken them to quarantine in Megala Therma or Kara Tepe. No information was registered during the afternoon or the following night. At this point, it was still possible that the port police on Lesvos had no plans to take them to the quarantine camp, as indeed they should have done.

A port police bus, filled with men, women and children thought by the observer to be refugees, was seen driving through Klio. The observer, a resident of the village, said he had seen this bus many times before, and it was used to transport new arrivals to the camps.

The bus was escorted by two police cars. The observer was unsure where it went.

The people on the bus, however, reported that they were taken to a port., where they were forced on a grey military vessel. Those who refused were beaten by men in dark uniforms wearing black balaclavas.

It was dark when the vessel set out, and after what seemed to be hours the boat stopped, and everyone was forced into a huge life raft. Once again, those who did not go willingly were beaten.

One man, a father with two small children, described the situation as ‘unreal’: ‘Children and women were screaming,’ he said. ‘People were beaten by men in uniform, who looked like commandos. Some of them were behaving like savages, it was a true nightmare.’

After hours drifting at sea, the group was found and rescued by the Turkish coast guard north of Kusadasi, Turkey.

The Turkish coastguard reported that ‘more than 30’ of the people on the boat were children, while pictures and videos we received while the group was on Lesvos, confirms it included many children. When we compare pictures from Lesvos with the pictures provided by the Turkish coast guard, of the moment they were found in the life raft drifting north of Kusadasi, there is no doubt it’s the same group.

Life raft picked up outside Kusadasi 26.04.2021

And yet despite the clear evidence, which also proves that the group was on Lesvos, port police will no doubt once again claim they have ‘no knowledge’ of anyone arriving in this area, and anyone claiming otherwise are ‘pushing fake news’. We would simply ask how they can explain the pictures, geolocation data or testimonies.

It’s difficult to believe that any reasonable people could find it in their hearts to drag more than 30 children back out to sea and dump them in life rafts in the dark, but this is the reality: this happened and as in so many cases before it, we have the evidence.

Whenever confronted with these documented facts, Greek officials deny having anything to do with it, ‘it wasn’t us, our coast guard is acting according international laws and regulations,’ they say.

We know this is incorrect. That at best they are being deliberately kept in the dark about their own uniformed officers’ activities, and at worst, they are deliberately lying. But it seems as if, increasingly, no-one cares. It’s almost as if they think ‘it’s not Europeans, it’s not our people, so who cares?’

And the Greek government simply continues to deny any involvement in these atrocities.

A few days ago the Greek minister of migration and asylum, Notis Mitarachi once again said: ‘our country guards it’s maritime borders with full respect for international law, and everyone knows that.’

But who does he mean when he says ‘everyone’? Everyone who pays any attention, who is there or knows people who are, knows he’s lying.

Since March 2020, 231 life rafts have been found drifting in the Aegean Sea: not one of them came from a shipwreck. The Greek government claims it is the victim of Turkish propaganda, that organisations, international newspapers and TV stations are all tools of the Turkish government: it’s obviously not the case.

The Greek government dismisses thousands of victim statements, pictures and videos filmed by the refugees themselves showing vessels from the Hellenic coast guard performing these violations, as ‘fake news’.

We must ask how far the Greek government can go and still get away with it. More worryingly, how far are they willing to go?

What will it take to wake the rest of Europe up? One dead child did not do it, four men handcuffed and left to drown by the Greek coastguard did not do it, so what could possibly happen? What are we prepared to accept?

One of these days we will have a major accident with these life rafts, would pictures of dead children tangled up in ropes from these life rafts be enough to wake EU politicians up?

These violations of international law and human rights has been going on for far too long, blessed and financed by Europe. NATO and FRONTEX have massive presence in the Aegean Sea. It is impossible that they do not know what is happening here. So, when will someone do something? For how long is Greece going to be allowed to carry out these unjustified, illegal, and dangerous acts, and for how long will the EU and the rest of the world pretend not to see it?

Please share this with your friends, let them know what is happening on Europe’s ‘doorstep’. And if you want to help, please contact your representative in Europe, with letters/e-mails available from: https://www.koraki.org/end-pushbacks 

One child wasn`t enough..

Pushbacks is no longer even the “new normal”: it is just “normal”

Fifty-one people on a boat north east of Korakas, Lesvos north were stopped by the Greek coastguard and towed from Greek waters on 14 April. Some of the people aboard called Aegean Boat Report at 7.30am. They were screaming on the phone, begging for help.

Pushback Lesvos 14.04.2021

The videos and pictures they sent us clearly showed that the boat towing them was a Lambro-57 coastal patrol boat, identification number LS-609. It belongs to the Greek coast guard, and is stationed on Lesvos.

Aegean Boat Report received several locations over Whatsapp, both regular and live location, from three different phones. At this point, the boat was 1.6km from land on Lesvos. From the pictures the people sent us, we could clearly see Korakas in the background. The boat was definitely deep inside Greek territory waters, but still it was pushed back, even though this is absolutely illegal.

In direct breach of international law, these people were forcibly deported by the Greek coast guard.

The direct voice contact was lost for several hours, but Aegean Boat Report could still follow the boat’s live location, as it was towed slowly north, away from Lesvos towards Behram, Turkey.

The Turkish coast guard was informed of their location and the people were eventually found and picked up.

Two days later, 16 April, Aegean Boat Report received another emergency call from a boat carrying 48 people in the same area.

A small RIB, carrying three men wearing balaclavas, had stopped them at sea and destroyed their engine.

While Aegean Boat Report spoke on the phone with the people whose boat had been attacked and vandalised, they were being towed back towards Turkish waters. They sent us several videos in which we can clearly see a RIB carrying three men in balaclavas towing the rubber boat. The boat used in this incident is smaller than previously used boats we have seen, and so far we have not been able to identify it, or the men onboard.

Pushback Lesvos 16.04.2021

The people who were attacked explained that after the men cut the rope, and left them drifting, the small boat carrying the three disguised men headed back in the direction of Lesvos at high speed.

In recent weeks, the Greek Minister of Migration & Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, has boasted in several interviews about the Greek government’s ‘border management policy’.

He said: “In 2021, flows have decreased by 89% on our island compared to 2020”.

Though this boast was carried by a number of media outlets, no-one appears to have asked, and Mr Mitarachis has not said anything about, how this was ‘achieved’.

Whenever confronted with questions about its border management issues, the Greek government proclaims that it has a “fair but strict border management policy”, and that they follow international regulations, laws, and human rights.

I guess if you go on record on international TV saying “we are doing nothing wrong” you have to stick to that line, but at some point it’s just futile to continue denying it.

It’s proven without any doubt that the Greek government is systematically deporting people who want to apply for asylum in Greece.

Since March last year, more than 12.000 men, woman and children, have been pushed back in the Aegean Sea, their right to apply for asylum denied by the Greek government.

A year ago, pushbacks in the Aegean Sea became headlines in the international press. The pushbacks then were usually performed under cover of darkness, so that nobody could see what was going on.

The Greek government of course denied any involvement, and most people found it difficult to believe that Greece could perform such outrages.

Today, we are long past the question “who is behind these pushbacks?”.

We have seen too many videos of Greek coast guard vessels towing rubber dinghies and inflatable life rafts, testimonies from victims and investigations to be fooled by the continuous denials by the Greek government. Even so, they still deny it.

But, perhaps because even the most blatant of crimes is no longer news if it is committed often enough, pushbacks no longer seem to make headlines in international media. It has become the new ‘normal’, performed in broad daylight, and even if we can see it happening, every single day, for some strange reason we can still hear Greek officials continue to deny being involved.

Just a few days ago, we spoke to a reporter for a story about this illegal practice. She asked us “did anybody die?” This is not a criticism of ‘the media’ alone. It reflects people’s interests and priorities at least as much as it shapes them. But we have to ask, is this where we are now? In a situation in which the consistent mass breaking of international law, stripping men, women and children – and in fact every single person on the planet – of their fundamental human rights, is only news if someone dies in the process? And of course people have died as a result of pushbacks.

On 19 March 2021, less than five weeks ago, four men drowned when the Greek coastguard handcuffed them and set them adrift on the Aegean Sea, according to a report from Turkish coast guard.

Video published by TCG

In 2020, the current Greek government’s first full year in charge of Greece’s ‘border policy’, one in every 93 people who tried to reach Greece by sea, died. The worst death-rate in the recorded history of people movement on the Aegean Sea.

Statistics from UNHCR data portal

We ask again, is this now where we are? Where the law is broken with impunity, in broad daylight, where people drowned, in handcuffs, five weeks ago, where the Greek government has ‘achieved’ the highest ever death-rate on its coast, and we still ask “yes, but has anyone died recently?”?

We have published hundreds of pushback reports over the last year. Since March 2020, we have documented 410 pushback cases involving 12.266 people. In the same period, 130 life rafts have been found drifting in the Aegean Sea, carrying over 3,700 people.

This is no longer even the “new normal”: it is just “normal”. There can be few more damning indictments of Europe and its people than that this is how we behave: risking and causing people to die, by attacking them, and denying them their fundamental human rights.

It is an attack on us all: when a government strips a Somali teen, a Syrian child, an Iraqi man, an Afghan woman of their human rights, you have to know that they are reserving the right to do the same to you, to your son, daughter, brother, sister, parents, grandfather and grandmother.

Those rights belong to us all: once they are taken from one of us, they can be taken from us all. It must stop. We cannot simply turn a blind eye to this – the disgrace of Europe. Instead, we must stand, together, and demand better: from our governments, from the EU, from the international community.

This Will Forever Be a Stain On European History

Several boats carrying refugees tried to cross from Turkey to the Greek Aegean island of Lesvos on 2 April.

In at least five incidents, more than 200 people were stopped and pushed back by the Hellenic coast guard, as previously reported by Aegean Boat Report.

Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, made a public statement, in which he accused the Turkish coast guard and Turkish Navy of “accompanying flimsy migrant boats to the border of Europe in an effort to provoke an escalation with Greece”, an accusation made without evidence.

The Turkish coast guard issued its own statement about these incidents, in which it blamed the Greek coast guard for illegal activities, and the Turkish government’s Deputy Interior Minister Mr. Catakli, speaking on behalf of his government, categorically denied Mitarachi’s allegations.

Both sides released videos supposed to prove their accusations: videos which did not prove their claims.

Video published by the Hellenic coast guard
Video published by the Turkish coast guard

There are interesting elements in these videos, but for the most part they can only be seen as propaganda material to try to make the other side look bad.

But we don’t have to rely solely on these propaganda videos: not only did many people in these boats capture interesting and revealing footage on their phones, also a German TV crew from ZDF was onboard one of the Turkish coast guard vessels. Their report, especially their video, is highly interesting.

The Hellenic coast guard’s official report claimed none of the rubber boats managed to cross into Greek waters, but from the footage available this seems highly unlikely. First, we can see that both the Greek coast guard vessel PLS-080 (ΛΣ-080), and the RIB belonging to PLS-080 is driving dangerously close to and around several of the rubber boats trying to cross. It’s highly unlikely that they would operate and act like this inside Turkish waters.

Second, some footage shows some of the rubber boats only a few kilometres from land (Lesvos), so if not all, at least some of these boats clearly did reach Greek waters, which contradicts the Hellenic coast guard’s report.

In videos and pictures published by the Turkish coast guard, we can also see an Italian Frontex vessel, the 200/S-Class deep sea patrol boat CP-290, currently operating from Lesvos.

Next to the Italian Frontex vessel we can also clearly see a rubber boat with refugees. We have thoroughly investigated pictures and videos from multiple angles, and can confirm without any doubt that both the Frontex vessel and the rubber boat are inside Greek waters.

Frontex would not, unless there was a specific emergency, operate inside Turkish territory waters. At least some of the boats were clearly within Greek waters.

There are two interesting details within the Turkish coast guard’s statement that raise questions.

The Turkish coast guard reported that at 3.30am a rubber boat outside Lesvos south was picked up by the Hellenic coast guard vessel PLS-618 (ΛΣ-618), one of two Faiakas-class fast patrol crafts (FPCs) currently operated by the Hellenic Coast Guard and stationed on Lesvos.

This boat has been involved in numerous illegal pushbacks outside Lesvos, the latest reported by Aegean Boat Report on 19 February. In August last year an investigation was published on the Border Violence Monitoring Network, involving the boat in queastion.

In their report, the Turkish coast guard claims this incident on 2 April at 3.30am started as a pushback attempt, but the rubber boat was later picked up and taken towards Lesvos. Italian Frontex was reported to be present. This was also reported by the TV crew from ZDF filming onboard the Turkish coast guard vessel, making it more plausible that it in fact happened.

The question here is what happened to these people, allegedly picked up by HCG? We will return to this later.

At 7.00am, the Turkish coast guard reported that a rubber boat was intercepted by Italian Frontex (CP-290) and a Greek coast guard vessel (Lambro-57) outside Palios, north-eastern Lesvos. They report the passengers on this boat were picked up by the vessels from the Hellenic coast guard, and taken towards Lesvos.

From pictures and videos of the incident the rubber boat was picked up a few kilometres from land. There can be no doubt that it was inside Greek territory waters. We are left with the same question: what happened to these people?

Neither the 3am, or the 7am pick ups were reported as arriving on Lesvos, on 2 April or in the following days. They seems to have magically disappeared. On 2 April, 35 people were officially registered as arrived on Lesvos, so everything seems in order. But to understand that things are not as they seem, we need a bit more detailed information, of the kind the Greek government does not publish.

In the early morning, seven people were found by police walking towards Mytilíni harbour, and were taken to the quarantine camp in Kara Tepe. They claimed to have arrived by themselves in a rubber boat. Had they been picked up at sea by HCG, they would definitely not be walking alone towards Mytilíni harbour, so we can rule out that they had been picked up at sea.

Also on 2 April, a group of 28 people contacted Aegean Boat Report at first light after they had landed north west of Palios. Pictures and videos showed they had landed by themselves: they had not been picked up by HCG at sea.

They also explained that they did not see any boats when they approached land on Lesvos, so theirs clearly was not the boat we can see next to the Italian Frontex vessel. Twenty-eight people were registered in the quarantine camp in Megala Therma this day.

As previously mentioned, 35 people were officially registered as arriving at the camp on this day, and we have already ruled out that any of them were picked up by the Hellenic coast guard at sea.

It’s also important to mention that nobody was officially registered as arriving in the following days. So we must ask again: what happened to these people who were picked up by HCG?

The first case outside south Lesvos south is a bit difficult, because there’s no visible evidence besides the radar pictures published by ZDF. In the case later the same morning, outside north-east Lesvos, there are videos and pictures that clearly place the rubber boat next to the Italian Frontex vessel inside Greek territory waters. Perhaps Frontex can explain what really happened here, because we know that the Greek coast guard will deny even being there, despite what we can clearly see in the video.

That people have a tendency to magically disappear after encountering Greek officials, is nothing new: this has been reported numerous times at the land border in Evros and the Aegean Sea border for years.

The fact that Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, is reportedly deeply involved in these violations, seems to explain why EU is so reluctant to act against Greece on these violations, which are a systematic, illegal practice where international law and human rights are violated every single day, supported by Frontex.

If this had been taken seriously by the European Commission, they would have had no option but to pull Frontex out of Greece. Instead, they strengthen Frontex’s presence there, and arm its operatives.

It is also hard not to connect the EU’s reluctance to address illegal pushbacks in Greece to Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission’s statement in March 2020: “Greece is the shield of Europe”. This makes it seem as if anything goes as long as it is in the ‘interest’ of Europe (though in fact it is not: stripping the rights of Syrian teenagers, Afghan women, Iraqi men, and Congolese children, is also to strip the rights of every single person in Europe. Ourselves, our children, our brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents).

Another strange phenomenon are the mysterious rubber boats carrying masked men who have been reported to have violently attacked boats with refugees in the Aegean Sea for years. Previously, we have only seen glimpses of these boats in videos provided by refugees who have been victims of violent attacks at sea, but in the most recent video, it is clear that they are now operating in broad daylight.

In previous published investigations it has been proved without a doubt that these boats belong to the Hellenic coast guard, though this has of course been denied by the Greek government.

In videos from 2 April, we can clearly see a grey RIB, without any distinguishing marks, numbers or flag, carrying men not in uniform and wearing balaclavas, chasing boats filled with men women and children. The RIB is working closely with the Hellenic coast guard vessel PLS-080: the video shows it going back and forth from this vessel several times.

Also, in several videos we can clearly see that the RIB that usually is mounted on deck, as the RIB from PLS-080’s starboard side is missing. The RIB in the videos is identical to this missing RIB. The PLS-080 is a Saar IV class offshore patrol vessel. The Hellenic coast guard has three of these, ΛΣ-060, ΛΣ-070 and ΛΣ-080. They are all equipped with a one-engined orange Rescue RIB on Port side and a grey two-engined Pursuit RIB on starboard side.

All vessels in the Hellenic coast guard, including RIBs, are marked with an identification number and blue and white stripes. The RIBs also carry the identification mark of the vessel it belongs to. In this case, it should have been marked ‘ΛΣ-080 ’.

To see this unmarked RIB carrying four men wearing irregular clothing, faces covered, chasing flimsy rubber boats packed with unarmed people raises a lot of questions. Why is the identification markings on these boats removed? What could possibly be the explanation for that? Is it because these boats usually are used to carry out illegal operations under cover of darkness, and the coast guard doesn’t want them recognised?

But why would they then use these same boats in broad daylight, operating out of a vessel from the Hellenic coast guard? Normally officers in any coast guard, including Greece’s, wear uniforms on duty. The four men on this RIB, which belongs to the Hellenic coast guard, are not in uniform, wearing irregular clothing. Why? Is it so the coast guard might deny that the men onboard this RIB are coast guard personnel? So the Greek government could use ‘plausible deniability’ and claim no accountability for what is going on.

Also, why are the the men onboard this RIB covering or semi-covering their faces? To hide their identity? This is understandable, as they are breaking the law, but the Hellenic coast guard has previously said its personnel do not wear balaclavas or cover their faces on duty, but here we see men in dark irregular clothes, faces covered on a vessel belonging to the Hellenic Coast Guard. If not coast guard personnel, who are these people? It seems clear that we are dealing with a government which is systematically practicing illegal pushbacks on an industrial scale, violating international laws, regulations and international human rights on a daily basis.

And this is important. Greece should be sanctioned for these violations, and the people responsible should be behind bars.

But instead of sanctioning a EU member state for these authorities, we applaud them, give them billions in support and send armed Frontex personnel to assist them.

We seem to have lost touch with reality, forgotten our recent history. Not too long ago, fascism ruled Europe. We know what it ‘achieved’.

If anyone anywhere in the world tortured more than 10,000 people, we would without doubt call it a crime against humanity, and act accordingly. Greece has, since March 2020 tortured 11,567 people and counting. What have we done to stop this? Nothing.

This will forever be a stain on European history. When our grandchildren asked why it happened, and why we did not stop it, what will we say?

Another Day, Another Pushback, It Never Ends..

In the early hours of Saturday 3 April, a rubber boat started out from Balabanli, Ayvacik, carrying 27 people, 11 children and 16 adults, destination Lesvos north.

Boat Traveling towards Lesvos north April 3

After several hours at sea in the dark, only 450 metres from land east of Megala Therma, Lesvos north, their engine started to malfunction, they contacted Aegean Boat Report for assistance. The time was 4.31am.

For almost an hour, the boat drifted slowly towards land, but at 5.20am a coast guard vessel arrived and stopped it. From videos, we have identified the boat as a Lambro-57 coastal patrol boat belonging to the Hellenic coast guard. But instead of rescuing the drifting refugees, they attached a rope to the rubber dinghy and started to tow it back out to sea. The time was now 5.49am.

In several videos and pictures provided by the refugees, we can see the vessel from the Greek coast guard towing the rubber boat. It’s dark but we can positively identify the vessel. “We were almost on land” they later explained, “we could see the beach when the Greek Coast Guard stopped us and forced us back to Turkey”, there is no doubt who was behind this illegal pushback.

Pushback ongoing outside Lesvos north April 3

The weather wasn’t good, and water was entering the rubber boat while it was being towed. The Greek Coast Guard decided transferred the passengers from the flimsy rubber dinghy to the coast guard vessel, punctured the rubber boat, and the remains of the boat and its engine were thrown in the sea. The refugees explained that the boat took them towards Turkey, and after a short while, they were forced into a life raft.

At 8.37 am Aegean Boat Report regained contact with the people from the boat, they were screaming on the phone, beginning to be rescued. Their position was now deep inside Turkish waters, and the Turkish coast guard was notified immediately.

While they were waiting to be rescued, they sent several voice messages and videos. The case is clear, and there is very little room for doubt about what happened to them, and who is responsible. Videos clearly show what happened, and their locations were sent both as regular and live location on Whatsapp.

Life raft drifting north of Lesvos April 3

After spending hours in the life raft, they were eventually found and rescued by the Turkish coast guard.

Why people trying to seek safety in Europe are tortured this way I can’t even begin to understand. What is driving humans to inflict so much suffering and pain upon others is beyond my comprehension. If this had been done to Europeans anywhere in the world, lawyers would have lined up, lawsuits against the people responsible would have tied them up in court for years, but for this and almost all of the hundreds of similar cases in the last year alone, not one single word is mentioned in any newspaper. It’s as if these people do not exist.

I wonder how the Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, would try to squirm out of this one. Probably by saying that they had not been inside Greek territory waters, just as he said for the seven pushback incidents on Friday, and that the Hellenic Coast Guard complies with all international laws and regulations, an is not involved in any pushbacks whatsoever. And yes, he would probably also argue, as he has before, that these ‘unfounded allegations’ about pushbacks carried out by the Greek government are lies told by smugglers and organizations losing money on the decrease in arrivals on the Greek Aegean islands. It’s actually quite sad to see a man making a fool out of himself, by continuing to deny what has been proven over and over again. It’s perhaps difficult to stop lying when you have lied for so long, and lost touch with reality.

Over 200 People Pushed Back Outside Lesvos on April 2

Before first light on 2 April, Aegean Boat Reported was contacted by several people claiming to be in the need of rescue in different locations in the sea area around Lesvos. Some had been pushed back, engines removed from their vessels, drifting. One was being towed towards Turkish waters, and others were forced back over the border by vessels from the Hellenic coast guard.

In the early hours of 2 April, we registered at least five cases of pushbacks performed by the Greek Coast Guard: more than 200 people were pushed back in these five incidents.

Boats who contacted Aegean Boat Report on April 2

Later the same morning, the Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, made a public statement, were he accused the Turkish coast guard and Turkish Navy of “accompanying flimsy migrant boats to the border of Europe in an effort to provoke an escalation with Greece”, an accusation made without what we can call substantial proof.

He based his accusations on two videos released together with a statement from the Hellenic coast guard. The only problem is that the videos do not in any way show or prove what the minister is claiming.

This is not the first time Mr. Mitarachi has thrown accusations around without being able to back them up with proof. In an international invite-only press conference in December 2020, he accused Aegean Boat Report of being a part of a smuggling network without a single shred of evidence. This was of course entirely untrue, and was done to try to take focus away from an investigation published in Der Spiegel the same day regarding a serious pushback incident on Lesvos.

Another Proven Pushback!

The minister’s most recent statement, also in English, seems to be another poorly-planned and -executed attempt to move focus away from illegal pushbacks performed by the Greek government. In recent months, numerous investigations and reports on pushbacks have been published by the international press and organizations, resulting in questions being raised in the EU Parliament.

Pushback outside Lesvos April 2

The Turkish coast guard published their own statement from these incidents outside Lesvos on April 2, they on the other hand blamed the Greek coast guard for illegal activities. Also the Turkish government by Deputy Interior Minister Mr. Catakli, categorically denies the allegations put forward by Mr. Mitarachi.

So, let’s take a closer look at this statement, to see exactly how much of what Mr. Mitarachi said on 2 April is shown by the evidence to be accurate.

He said: “This morning, the Hellenic Coastguard reported multiple incidents of the Turkish Coastguard and Navy accompanying flimsy migrant boats to the border of Europe”.

Yes, there were multiple boats trying to cross towards the Greek Aegean islands on that morning, but Mr Mitarachi has not shown that they were “accompanied” by the Turkish coast guard. This is interesting because if he had proof that this had happened, wouldn’t it then be strange not to use it, and what could possibly be the reason not to use it?

Pushback outside Lesvos April 2

He also refers to “the border of Europe”, not the Greek border, as if this “provocation” as he calls it, was aimed at Europe, and not Greece. It seems he wants to portray Greece as the ‘shield’ of Europe, as Ursula von der Leyen described it in March last year, so it looks as if Greece is not ‘defending’ itself, but ‘defending’ everyone in Europe.

He went on: “It is beyond doubt that these migrants departed Turkish shores and given the fact they were supported by Turkey, were not at risk”

He is correct to say these people departed from Turkey, but when he adds that they were “supported by Turkey”, he offers no evidence to support this claim. And when he claims that they were ‘not at risk’, we in fact have video evidence that these people were in fact in grave danger, because of the illegal actions taken by the Greek Coast Guard.

Pushback outside Lesvos April 2

He then said: “We call on Turkey to: 1) Stand down and stop this unwarranted provocation; 2) Return these migrants safely to Turkey; 3) Live up to the 2016 EU-Turkey Joint Statement on migration.”

So, in response, we should note that: 1) this was not a “provocation”, unless Mr. Mitarachi is correct when he claims these boats were sent by The Turkish government, to “provoke” Greece. There has as yet been no evidence offered to substantiate this claim. 2) Why should Turkey return people who are entitled by international law to cross any border as long as they intend to apply for asylum in their final destination country? It’s also absolutely illegal under international law and it is a direct breach of ALL our human rights for countries to prevent people from traveling and entering, perhaps something to which Mr. Mitarachi should pay more attention.

Pushback outside Lesvos April 3

Mr. Mitarachi tries to imply that people are safe in Turkey, if taken back by the Turkish coast guard. How can he possibly know this? He does not know who these people are, or why they are trying to reach Greece, because he refuses to allow them to apply for asylum, or consider their applications – as is their right under international law.

It is of course true that countries are entitled to ‘defend their borders’ – European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson talked about that in her press conference on Lesvos on Monday 30 March. But Ms Johansson and Mr. Mitarachis know that this does not apply to individuals trying to reach places of safety. A country absolutely has the right to defend its borders from an invading force, but it cannot pretend to be defending itself by breaking international law to prevent people seeking safety. The UN Declaration of Human Rights (article 14) 1948. UN Refugee Convention, 1951 and Protocol 1967 are clear that this is the right of every person on the planet.

3) This is in fact one of several reasons why the EU/Turkey Deal Mr. Mitarachi cites is a direct breach of international law. We might also note that to all intents and purposes, the EU-Turkey Deal is over. Although there is no official ‘end-date’ written into the Deal, the last EU money promised to Turkey under the Deal was in December 2020 (two years late, according to the Deal’s terms). At the time of writing, Ms Johansson herself is talking regularly and publicly about ‘renewing and renegotiating’ the Deal for this precise reason: it is effectively over.

It seems only fair to mention, too, that whatever else may be true about Turkey, and also its relationship with Greece, the Turkish coastguard has stopped well over half of all the people who have tried to make the crossing since the Deal came into effect in late March 2016. From a purely statistical viewpoint, more than twice as many people would have arrived in Greece from March 2016, had the TCG not become the sea militia the EU demanded it must be, under the terms of the Deal. For Mitarachi or anyone else to claim Turkey has not ‘adhered to’ the Deal is simply an attempt to mislead the public, as well as politicians looking on from elsewhere in Europe.

Aegean Boat Report Statisticks

Mitarachi’s statement to camera on 2 April was almost entirely incorrect. We cannot know for certain why he chose to say what he said, when he did, but it is reasonable to consider that it was broadcast just as the issue of Greece’s lawbreaking on the Aegean was gaining widespread, and correctly negative, international coverage.

Perhaps when he practised it in front of his mirror, the statement sounded firm and convincing. But to anyone with even the slightest interest and knowledge, it sounded like the opposite: a person desperately trying to cover up their atrocious behaviour with the flimsiest of stories.

On 2 April, a genuinely dreadful moment in the modern history of Europe, more than 200 people were illegally pushed back by the Greek government outside Lesvos. This statement is a fact, and we have the proof to support it.  

Voices from people being pushed back by Greek coast guard

We doubt Mr. Mitarachi lost any sleep over it, but I can tell you I did.

From just after midnight on 2 April, Aegean Boat Report received more than 100 phone calls from people in distress, begging for help, fearing for their lives, and all we could do was to call the very coast guard which was the reason for their suffering.

More than 11,000 men, women and children entering the EU to seek safe places to rebuild their lives have been illegally forced out of Greece since 1 March 2020.

First-hand accounts from these innocent people tell of beatings at the hands of uniformed officers, and in every case, they have been forced into engineless vessels – almost always inflatable tents – and set adrift in the Eastern Aegean Sea.

This is illegal, immoral, and in the EU – a political bloc which presents itself as, and believes itself to be, a protector and promoter of international law and human rights – unacceptable.

It is time we as people, and the EU as a political body, moves to end these illegal acts. Mr Mitarachi and the Greek government can, of course, join us in this effort. We would welcome them. But with them or without them, this is a stain on all of our consciences, and all of our records, and it cannot continue.

Aegean Boat Report will upon official request, make all documentation available for international news outlets who wants to investigate these cases further. Conditions of use determined by ABR.

” I Felt like An Animal On The Way To Slaughter”

In the early hours of Tuesday, 30 March, 37 people started out from Ayvalik, Turkey, in a rubber boat and headed towards Lesvos north east. The wind and current in the area pushed them due south west.

Locaten reciev Aegean Boat Report

After two hours the boat’s engine stopped and they called for help, still in Turkish waters, drifting slowly into Greek waters. The Turkish coast guard was informed, but by the time their vessel reached the location, the rubber boat had drifted into Greek waters, and detected and stopped by a boat belonging to the Hellenic coast guard (later in interview identified as a Lambro-57 coastal patrol vessel). The Time was 5.30am.

Ilustration Picture

According to their testimony, while onboard the Hellenic coast guard vessel, they were beaten by men wearing black balaclavas and dark uniforms. Everyone, including the children, was placed at the front of the vessel, outside in the cold winds.

A second vessel was also on location, a larger military vessel (later in interview identified as a Vosper Europatrol 250 MK1 offshore patrol vessel identification mark ΛΣ 050, belonging to the Hellenic coast guard, and stationed in Petra, Lesvos).

After a while, everyone was transferred to this larger vessel. They were not allowed to take any of their belongings with them: what little they had, they were forced to leave behind.

One by one they were searched when taken onboard, and their phones, papers and money were confiscated. One girl managed to hide her phone, which she later used to again call for rescue and to document their situation. They were placed again at the front of the vessel, ordered to look down and be quiet.

For five hours, they were held captive on the vessel, and offered no support like food, water or blankets, even for the children.

The young woman I spoke with, still in shock after this traumatic experience, asked me “why Europe treat us like this, is it because you hate black people?” the question went unanswered. She told me she felt like an animal on the way to slaughter, horrible words to hear from a 15 year-old girl.

At 10.30am, Aegean Boat Report received a second emergency call, still from the same number. The men, women and children were now drifting in two life rafts, one of which was punctured and taking in water: everyone had to climb into one raft.

From the new location the girl sent, they were north east of Karaada island, Cesme, 63 nautical miles from the first location received south west of Ayvalik. There is no possible way they could manage this trip by themselves, not in a rubber dinghy, nor in a engineless life raft, there is no doubt who is responsible for this.

Video Taken Inside the Life Raft Outside Cesme

Aegean Boat Report again informed the Turkish coast guard, and shortly after they were found and rescued, 37 people picked up from a life raft in the Aegean Sea.

İzmir Açıklarında 37 Düzensiz Göçmen Kurtarılmıştır (sg.gov.tr)

Why people trying to seek safety in Europe are tortured this way I can’t even begin to understand. What is driving humans to inflict so much suffering and pain upon others? It is beyond my comprehension.

If this had been done to Europeans anywhere in the world, lawyers would have lined up, and lawsuits against the people responsible would have tied them up in court for years, but it seems as if in cases like this one, no-one even blinks: not one single word is mentioned in any newspaper, it’s as if these people do not exist.

Watching the news conference the other day from Lesvos with the Greek minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi and the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson made me physically sick.

Again, Mr. Mitarachi denied any involvement or wrongdoing by the Greek government or the Hellenic coast guard, using the same phrase he has so many times before, calling it fake news and propaganda to influence international public opinion, this time adding a new scenario, that it was manufactured by smugglers and organizations losing money when arrival numbers decreased.

Mr. Mitarachi can only be seen as a pathological liar, a puppet acting on behalf of the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the political agenda of the right-wing party New Democracy. Mr. Mitarachi is obviously not the brain behind this, he’s merely a tool, and someone who will take the fall for this when it goes sideways, which it will.

Any person of intelligence would see this coming and dodge the bullet, but Mr. Mitarachi is heading towards the inevitable with a smile, like a lamb to the slaughter.

And in a meeting yesterday in Athens, the Minister of Shipping and Island Policy, Mr. Ioannis Plakiotakis said that “on the basis of unsubstantiated complaints” he has already initiated the process of updating the internal mechanism in order to fully investigate each incident and to “put an end to the propaganda efforts against Greece.”

He added: “The European Union must take all necessary steps to ensure that the attempt to manipulate international public opinion, which results from specific centres and interest groups, fails.”

This is the same man who in in September last year, bragged in an international news conference. “Since the start of the year, the entry of more than 10,000 people has been prevented.” In August alone, he said, “we had 68 cases of prevention and we succeeded in 3,000 people not entering our country.”

Plakiotakis said nothing about how the boats were stopped from entering Greek waters, which also is the south-eastern border of the EU. But he stressed that the coast guard “operates based on international law and international legality, based on the rules of engagement at sea, and,.. with complete respect for human dignity and of course for human life.”

Madam Commissioner, we are here to help

Dear Madam Commissioner, Ms Johansson,

We watched your press conference this afternoon (29 March 2021) with interest and – we have to say – no little disappointment.

It was heartening to hear both you and Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis promise that the ‘closed camps’ on the Aegean islands Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos will not be closed.

You can be assured that we will be keeping a close eye on those camps, because they have been repeatedly described by the Greek government as ‘closed’ since the idea was first suggested in September 2019.

We will be sure to keep you updated, as we know very well that you do not want the EU funding closed camps, as you said so publicly in September 2020, in the immediate aftermath of the Moria fire.

We would be very interested to understand why the Greek government has decided everyone who lives in these ‘non-closed’ camps will be subject to a curfew of 8pm every evening, however. Would you perhaps be able to explain that to us?

Anyway, we are sorry to say that – for us – this was the end of the ‘encouraging updates’.

Perhaps most disappointing – and as you heard it yourself, we are sure you, too, were dismayed – was to hear Notis Mitarachis describe the 370 documented pushbacks, in which 10,989 men, women and children were forcibly removed from Greece (many of them beaten) and set adrift in engineless life-rafts (some of them killed in the journey) as ‘fake news’, and repeated his evidence-free implication that those documented cases had somehow been ‘faked’ by ‘smugglers’.

We can only imagine the personal embarrassment you felt when you heard Mr Mitarachis as then forced to admit that in fact not all the cases were ‘fake news’: that those raised by UNHCR (and only those) may have had some truth to them and were in fact treated seriously.

He did not explain – and never has explained – exactly how he and his government have discovered that every single case not raised by UNHCR is unworthy of further investigation, but every single one highlighted by them needs to be taken seriously. Perhaps you have asked him how this decision was taken?

In any case, we are very sorry that you were forced into the embarrassing position of having to appear to take seriously a claim that every single documented pushback from Greece in the last 12 months was a lie, except the ones which happen to have been raised by UNHCR. We were equally distressed that you then had to appear to accept that of the cases UNHCR wished to be investigated, every single one hadbeen judged to have been wrong by the Greek courts.

It was almost impossible not to cringe in sympathy with you as Mr Mitarachis appeared to claim that every humanitarian organisation with any knowledge of the Greek coastguard’s activities in the Aegean and the United Nations was for some reason targeting Greece with unjust attacks.

We can assure you that many more cases are to be heard, and not only in Greek courts.

Once again, we feel we must offer our deepest sympathy to you for this experience.

But, Madam Commissioner, Ms Johansson, we do want to offer you something else. Information you may not have received from Mr Mitarachis and his Ministry.

From Saturday night to the end of Sunday, Madam Commissioner, a period which roughly matches the first third of your visit, the Greek coastguard carried out NINE (9) pushbacks, of 291 men, women and children.

We know this because we receive their desperate messages, calling for someone, anyone, to help them.

In the videos we include for your information, there is a group of 19 people. They arrived on Lesvos early on Sunday morning. You can see them on the island in the videos.

The Greek coastguard found them, forced them onto a coastguard vessel, and – as you can also see clearly in this footage – left them adrift near Dikili, Western Turkey in an engineless inflatable tent.

Madam Commissioner, Ms Johansson, we know that you believe in international law. We know that it can be difficult to find the ‘right path’ when the people on whose information you are supposed to rely fail to provide you with the ‘whole story’. And we know that you cannot possibly want this to be happening ‘on your watch’. But it is. It has happened to more than 11,000 people in the last year alone.

We are here to help, Ms Johansson.

We are here to help the men, women and children desperately seeking somewhere safe and decent to live – including, we are sad to have to say, helping them not to die. We are here to help the Greek government ensure those people enter the legal process, and respond to this challenging situation with decency and decorum.

And we are here to help you, by helping you to ensure that the EU is the best it can possibly be. That it does embody the principles and letter of international law, rather than just hoping people will think it does.

We want the same thing, Ms Johansson: an EU of which we can all be proud. Please help us, too, to realise this fine ambition.