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36 Life Rafts In January

Over the last three years 54.000 people have been pushed back in the Aegean Sea in over 2.000 cases by Greek authorities, despite the mounting evidence against them, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, continue to deny Greek involvement in these atrocities.

Evidence is recorded by UN bodies, NGOs and investigative journalists. However, Mitsotakis refuted the ever mounting evidence of systematic pushbacks, saying Greece fully respects fundamental rights and doubling down on often repeated claims that such allegations are orchestrated by Turkey.

UN bodies and human rights groups have repeatedly condemned Greece’s illegal practice of pushing back refugees, saying it violates human rights and international law by endangering the lives of vulnerable people, including women and children.

Pushbacks are contrary to international refugee protection agreements, which dictate that people should not be expelled or returned to a country where their life and safety might be in danger due to their race, religion, nationality, or membership in a social or political group.

A concerning trend in Greece of criminalisation of civil society organizations, who continue to expose Greek authorities, and the use of smear campaigns to restrict migrant rights defenders from operating.

So far almost 1.100 life rafts has been picked up by Turkish coast guard in the Aegean Sea, carrying 18.500 men, women and children, who have been illegally removed from Greek islands by authorities.

In January 2023 Aegean Boat Report have registered 66 illegal pushbacks in the Aegean Sea, performed by the Hellenic coast guard, 1.881 people, children, women and men, have been denied their right to seek asylum, their human rights have been violated by the Greek government.

25 of these pushback cases was performed by using rescue equipment, where 583 people, children, women and men was placed in a total of 36 life rafts, and left helplessly drifting at sea.

We have put together a video showing the 36 life rafts that was found drifting in the Aegean Sea in January, carrying almost 600 people.

How this have been allowed to continue for all these years, still ongoing every single day, supported by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency FRONTEX, funded by the European Commission, is reprehensible, these are the “European values” we are trying to protect.

European politicians have for far to long been looking the other way, while these crimes against humanity have been performed in our name, at our borders. They are even to this day, still debating “if” this is actually taking place, and if so, who is responsible.

The “if” and “who” has already been documented and proven without a doubt, the evidence is overwhelming, now it’s time to put the people responsible on trial for crimes against humanity, and restore our good name and reputation, our values.

It’s time to take out the trash

For three years, the Greek government has, in place of a refugee policy, deliberately broken international law, carrying out acts of violence, torture, and sometimes murder against men, women and children who have done nothing wrong.

It’s time for this outrage to end. Whether the trash is the despicable policy and activity of the Greek Nea Dimokratia government, or the government itself, it’s time we took it out, and disposed of it. That’s what we do with trash..

Over the last three years, thousands of people have contact Aegean Boat Report for assistance, either from the Greek islands after arriving,

or in distress at sea.

In recent months we have seen a decrease of people making contact after arriving on the Greek islands. This is happening at a time when the number of people trying to cross, and the number of pushbacks, is rapidly increasing, which gives real cause for concern.

Greek Aegean Islands

If more people were instead making direct contact with local organisations for assistance when they arrive, this would make the reduced number of calls to us an improvement, and hopefully would have resulted in fewer people being violently removed from the islands. This is unfortunately not the case.

When I’m looking at statistics on the number of people being registered as new arrivals compared to people being pushed back in life rafts, I’m concerned that most of us are not seeing the full picture.

Arrivals on the Greek islands have increased throughout 2022, so from that we can assume that more people have made contact with someone after arriving to try to get assistance. Aegean Boat Report have had a steady increase in people asking for assistance last year, apart from in December: the last month of 2022 was unusually quiet compared to previous months.

Only 18 per cent of people who started their trip towards the Greek Aegean islands in 2022 managed to arrive and were given the opportunity to apply for asylum – their legal right.

Arrivals Greek Aegean Islands 2022

This means 82 per cent ended up back in Turkey, due to pushbacks (41 per cent), engine problems, or being stopped by the Turkish coast guard (TCG)(41 per cent).

Turkish Coast Guard (TCG) – Greek Coast Guard (HCG)

What we don’t see is the high number of people who reach the Greek islands, only to be arrested, taken back out to sea, and are left drifting in life rafts by Greek authorities.

A total of 21,152 people actually arrived on the Greek islands in 2022. Of those, 11.496 (54 per cent) people were registered and given the opportunity to apply for asylum, while 9.656 (46 per cent) were forcibly removed by Greek authorities and left helplessly drifting in 575 life rafts in the Aegean Sea.

Greek Aegean Islands

Aegean Boat Report has documented and published hundreds of pushback cases, which has been possible because after arriving, people arriving have contacted us, providing important documentation in form of pictures, videos and location data.

When fewer people make contact, our ability to document and publish is affected, and important documentation is lost.

We must assume that local organisations have had contact with many of the people who have later been pushed back, but unfortunately this information is not made available to the public.

What information these local organisations receive, and how this information is preserved, is unknown. As far as we know, this information is not used or shared as documentation on how people on the move are treated in Greece.

We understand that organisations on the ground can’t use the information they have as we do, because they will be criminalized, targeted, intimidated and eventually charged, as I have, by a government which is abusing its position and its power to target and attack organisations with false claims and threats of jail and other punishments, despite those organisations – including ABR – doing nothing other than protecting the legal and human rights of men, women and children, highlighting the incidences in which those rights are being ignored or denied, and assisting the government to fulfil its moral and legal duties to people on the move.

We are determined to continue to protect people’s inalienable legal and human rights, by revealing the true face of the Greek authorities. But we can’t do it without information, and we can’t do it alone.

In December, 14 groups that arrived on Lesvos – more than 400 men, women and children – were found by Greek authorities, arrested, forced back to sea, and left drifting in life rafts. Similar cases take place every week – in many cases every day – on each of the Greek Aegean islands. There is no exception.

This is a systematic approach to so-called ‘migration management’, the Greek authorities, backed and protected by the European Commission, violating international laws and human rights.

Almost 10.000 people, half of everyone who managed to reach the Greek Aegean islands in 2022, were arrested, robbed, threatened, beaten and forcibly removed by Greek police and coast guard, with the help of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency FRONTEX, in the name of border management and protection.

This was paid for by European taxpayers’ money, and blessed by the European Commission. The Commission has the mandate, authority and opportunity to stop these atrocities, to ensure the rule of law in Europe is upheld, human rights are defended, and that our common European values are protected.

European Values Neglected and Forgotten By European Politicians

Instead, after more three years, it has done nothing.

The question everyone should ask themselves is why, why has nothing been done?

The Commission can’t hide behind claims of a lack of evidence: even their own OLAF report concluded the Greek authorities, with help from FRONTEX, violate international laws and human rights, so why has absolutely nothing been done?

There are thousands of witness statements, hundreds of reports and investigations, overwhelming amounts of evidence from EU bodies, NGO’s, journalists and researchers, all proving that Greek authorities are violating international laws and human rights on an industrial scale, activity that can only be seen as crimes against humanity.

Over 3,000 pages with testimonies impacting more than 25,000 people on the move by BVMN

It’s time to remove the cancer before it’s to late, before it infects everything we hold dearly.

It’s time to pull up our sleeves and take out the trash.

Government’s efforts to intimidate humanitarians unfounded, and must not be allowed to succeed

We at Aegean Boat Report are saddened, weary, and sadly not at all surprised to once again have been targeted by the Greek government with yet another mischievous, baseless and transparent attempt to prevent us from carrying out our – unfortunately necessary – work.

Anyone who has followed us or our experiences in recent years will be aware that we are the leading observer and reporter of illegal pushbacks of men, women and children from the Greek Aegean Sea, and that as a result of this work, we have been repeatedly targeted and  threatened by the Greek government, which carries out these illegal, brutal and in many cases fatal pushbacks – despite their absolute illegality – as its main ‘response’ to people seeking safety in the EU.

And once again, the government has, through the Greek Coastguard which has leaned upon the Kos Prosecutor’s Office, issued a transparent attack on us and the Greek branch of the international Helsinki Monitor, in the form of a lawsuit which can only be described as frivolous, if not an aggressive effort to intimidate us.

In this latest abuse of its power, the Greek government has used its operational arms to allege that we and the Greek Helsinki Monitor have: ‘formed a criminal organisation with the purpose of receiving information from citizens of third countries, who attempt illegal entry into Greece, in order to facilitate their illegal entry and stay, by sending the authorities their complete information and their exact location in the country, in order for the latter to be subject to asylum procedures.’

We were not specifically named in the government’s original release announcing this astonishing charge, but we and the ‘… Monitor’ have been named in a letter of complaint about it, signed by 14 Greek humanitarian organisations who, correctly, call the charges a ‘witch-hunt’.

We do not wish to prejudice any trial which may take place, but we must note the following:

·     Neither we, nor as far as we know the Greek Helsinki Monitor have ever formed a criminal organisation. Indeed, we will go further. If the government is seriously suggesting that the Helsinki Monitor, renowned across the world as a guardian of human rights, is in fact carrying out criminal activity, we must advise it to step back and think much more sensibly about what it is alleging, and advise anyone else to treat such claims with the extreme scepticism they deserve

·         The activities alleged in the ‘charge’ are in fact not at all criminal

It is the human and legal right of any and all human beings on Earth to travel to any country they choose to seek safe places to live, learn and work, and enter the asylum system where their claims to such safety must be considered by the government of that country. They have broken no laws by entering Greece.  

The ‘charge’ is that we actually are informing the Greek authorities of the location of people who have entered Greece in the hope of finding safety, both assisting the legal rights of those people, and assisting the Greek authorities to carry out their own legal duties.

That is, we are being ‘charged’ with the promotion and protection of the law, a law being broken by the Greek government, as if us doing so were in some way a crime. It is the opposite.

We feel at this stage it is pointless to say very much more on this matter. We very much hope the Greek courts can save the government the embarrassment of either having their most recent attack on us either dismissed by the court or shown to be the aggressive effort to deter us from doing our jobs that it in fact is.

But we also note that we will be very happy to point out in court that we are not even accused of, and never have we carried out, any illegal activity.

We also feel we must ask: why would it be that the Greek government, which has illegally pushed-back tens of thousands of men, women and children, killing some, beating many and robbing almost all, in the process, should wish to take us to court for ensuring the law is upheld and people are able to enter the asylum system as is their right?

Tommy Olsen, Aegean Boat Report

Baby Boy Drowned on Lesvos, Mother Pushed Back by Greek Authorities

On Friday December 16 a boat carrying 35 people crashed into rocks of the coast in the Fara area west of the entrance to the gulf of Sheraton Lesvos south, according to the information published by the Hellenic coast guard.

During the rescue operation 34 people was recovered alive, including two people who was injured and taken to hospital, a two month old boy was found dead, reportedly drowned caused by the shipwreck.

According to a statement published by the police, the information regarding arrivals in the area of Gera initially came from an email from the organization Alarmphone, and that they had received another email at 10.13 from UNHCR informing them of a dead baby.

A statement was published by MSF on Saturday where they informed that they had been stopped by officers from the local police and port authorities and held back, for almost two hours, not allowed to go into the area to attend shipwreck victims before after 12 pm. “On our way to the site, the Hellenic Police stopped us for almost 2 hours, delaying the possibility of timely medical care. Another group was stopped by the Greek Coast Guard. We will never know if these two hours would allow us to save the baby’s life,” the MSF statement reads.

Due to the email sent by Alarmphone, an organization authorized previously has accused of espionage, police claimed to have sealed off the area for investigation purposes, and that this was the reason for holding medical staff from MSF back.

Alarmphone has published a statement saying Greek authorities are trying yet again to cover up their own crimes.

Several versions have been published by port authorities, their statements seems to change from time to time to better fit information published by MSF and press articles, especially on when they were informed and what time they went to the area.

In one of the versions port authorities claimed that the Port Authority of Mytilene was informed of the arrival of the refugees at “noon” and “immediate officials of the Port Authority of Plomari went to the area with a patrol vehicle of the Hellenic Coast Guard”. In a more recent update, the Coast Guard stated that the information it had was from the High Commission at the same time as the police had received this information. Alarmphone, according to EFSYN, sent out the email to inform authorities at 08.43, and not at “noon”.

So when did authorities actually intervene, and what was the real reason for blocking medical personnel from entering the area? According to reports, the time the two units of MSF arrived in the area was around 09.45 in the morning, they first unite was blocked for two hours by police forces, and the second by the port police! Which means quite simply that the Coast Guard, which according to the police also had jurisdiction over the operation, was in the area early on.

According to information published by Thrasos Avraám, several vehicles without license plates had been observed in the area by locals this morning. Normally road blocks are put up by authorities to give these groups time to remove people without witnesses, pushing people back to Turkey. This information indicates that MSF was blocked so that they would not interfere with authorities illegal activities, and had little to do with who informed authorities on this arrival.

Information from the refuges themselves stated that they had been 50 people on the boat, not 34 as authorities claimed, and that 16 people was missing, one of them the mother of the dead baby boy, according to the boy’s father. In authorities statements noting was published on missing people nor any actions taken to try to locate them. What could possibly be the reason for leaving such important information out of their official statements?

Press statement

“In the early hours of today, the Port Authority of Mytilene received the results of the autopsy – autopsy carried out by the Forensic Service of the North Aegean, according to which the infant’s death occurred “as a result of drowning in sea water”.

The results are consistent with an email sent by UNHCR, around 10:13 on 16/12/2022, informing both the Port Authority of Mytilene and the competent authorities about the incident in question, stating the existence of the dead infant, who according to information he had fallen into the sea upon the arrival of the foreigners on the island and his death had been noticed by them foreigners arriving after disembarkation on land.

The aforementioned briefing was followed by investigations to identify the foreigners from L.S. – EL.AKT patrol boats. and L.S.-EL.AKT patrol vehicles and around 15:00 a total of thirty-four (34) foreigners and the infant, unconscious, were found in the land area “FARA” n. Lesvos.

Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Insular Policy, Office of Communication and Information”

Information published by authorities on this case has been confusing, since they change their statements to better fit information published by organizations and journalists. What we are about to reveal next will drastically change how this case is perceived, and raise many questions on what authorities actually did and the reason for doing so.

On December 16, at 14.55, a life raft carrying 16 people (Yemen, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Liberia), was found drifting outside Dikili by Turkish coast guard.

The rescued claimed to have been part of a larger group, approximately 50 people, that arrived on Lesvos south earlier this morning. One of the people found in this life raft was a woman who claimed she had been separated from her two months old boy and her husband, they, according to her, was left behind on Lesvos.

We won’t speculate in what really happened on Lesvos this morning, because so far we have not been able to confirm all of the information. One thing is clear, Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Insular Policy has published a statement that is far from the truth, deliberately lying to the public on an incident where a two month old baby boy died, this is extremely worrying and shows the lengths the Greek authorities are willing to go to cover up their illegal practice.

We are informed that legal actors are in contact with the victims in Turkey, and specifically the alleged mother of the dead baby boy, hopefully more information will be published by the parties involved when the time is right. It will also be interesting to see how the Ministry will react, and if they once again will change their statement to better fit the narrative.

This case that resulted in the death of a two month old baby boy, and similar cases in Greece, should be thoroughly investigated by an independent EU body, and not by Greek authorities, whose only interest is to cover up their own crimes.

26 People Pushed Back From The Greek Island Of Lipsi

On Thursday December 15, 26 people, 25 Palestinians and one Yemeni, was found on the Aegean island of Lipsi in northern Dodecanese. The group claimed to have been hiding on a remote beach on the island , to avoid being found by Greek authorities and illegally returned to Turkey.

The group consisted of Palestinian families fleeing from Turkey, amongst them 4 children, 3 pregnant women and a man with a serious case of diabetes that needed medical attention, and was provided by the local ambulance on the island.

The group was eventually brought to the port police office in Lipsi by local police, located in the port across from Lipsi Park.

Locals on the island once again showed solidarity, provided food, clothes, hygiene/sanitary products and toys for the children, even local police provided water and oranges.

Around 15.00 local police started escorting the group down to the port and out to the pier, information from port police on Lipsi was that the group was going to be transported to camp on Leros. Later we will see that this information was not correct.

At 16.00 a coast guard vessel arrived in Port, there are no coast guard vessels stationed on Lipsi.

The boat was, as we can see from pictures and videos, a Lambro Halmatic 60 SAR vessel, belonging to the Hellenic coast guard, carrying identification number 514. The SAR-514 is one out of 10 vessels in this class in the Greek coast guard fleet, this one is stationed on Leros.

Onboard the SAR vessel we can clearly see 8 men, five of these men uses balaclavas to cover their faces, two are without masks and one uses a regular face mask. According to Greek officials balaclavas is not used by coast guard performing their regular duties, but in this case most actually did.

Locals were not allowed to go out on the pier, but from a distance they observed the group being slowly taken onboard and placed outside in the back of the vessel. The ambulance drove out to the coast guard vessel with the diabetic patient who also was transferred to the coast guard ship.

There were many witnesses on Lipsi who can confirm that this group of 26 people, mostly Palestinian families, men, woman and children, was on the island of Lipsi, and in the custody of the Hellenic coast guard, even a local priest from the Greek Orthodox Church was there to give support. Little did they know then of what would happen to these families, their faith was already set.

Shortly after 17 pm, while the sun was going down, the coast guard vessel left port in Lipsi and headed out to sea carrying 26 refugees that locals was told by local port police would be taken to Leros. In pictures and videos we can see the vessel leaving port, all 26 refugees was sitting outside in the back of the vessel, while these masked officers was guarding them on deck.

What we can confirm is that this group never arrived on Leros as locals was told. As we can see from the official registration data provided by Greek authorities only one person arrived on Leros on December 15, no arrivals the following day was registered.

Some might think that this could be an error in the registration, and that the group was taken to Leros on the evening of December 15. Unfortunately this is not the case, first reception on Leros will confirm that only one person arrived on the island during these two days, and this person did not arrive on the SAR-514, so what really happened to this group?

For people working in documenting the situation in the Aegean Sea, these cases are not rare nor unusual, it’s actually more the rule than the exception. Refugees, men, women and children are removed from Greek islands and forced into life rafts in the middle of the sea by the Greek coast guard, on direct orders from the Greek government. In this case the surprising part was that it was done so openly, in front of everyone in bright daylight, as if this was totally legal, it’s not, it’s actually a violation of international law and human rights law.

On December 16, at 04.15, 26 people, men, women and children, was found drifting in a life raft outside Menderes by the Turkish coast guard.

When comparing pictures and videos taken by locals on Lipsi, with pictures and videos taken by the Turkish coast guard when the group was found, there is absolutely no doubt, it’s the same group that was taken onboard the coast guard vessel in Lipsi. Also any local who was involved can easily identify this group as the people they helped on the island, if anyone would care to investigate.

Unfortunately these cases are never investigated, not by Greek authorities nor by the EU Commission. Instead Greek authorities are targeting people and organizations, who on a daily basis are documenting, investigating and publishing these crimes committed by Greek authorities, in an ongoing witch hunt to criminalize frontline defenders.

We who are trying to protect the rights of others, have become the target of ridicules and unfounded investigations, and are facing criminal charges for doing our job protecting refugees at the border of Europe.

Aegean Boat Report have systematically documented, investigated and published hundreds of cases of pushbacks performed by Greek authorities in the Aegean Sea over the last three years. This has not gone unnoticed, and we have frequently been the target of the Greek authorities systematic disinformation and propaganda campaigns, meant to slander and criminalize anyone who reveals their true nature.

Defending human rights is a human right!

15 Children Left Drifting In Life Rafts By Greek Authorities

In the early morning of December 6, a boat carrying 44 people arrived on the northeastern shore of Lesvos.

Shortly after arriving the group fled to the woods in the surrounding area to hide, fearing that if they were found by Greek authorities they would be illegally deported back to Turkey.

The group contacted local organizations to try to get help, after a while their call for help was answered. If the group agreed that the local organization shared their location with Greek authorities, this organization could then come to their aid, after some persuasion, the group hesitantly agreed, they desperately needed help.

Hours passed and nothing happened, the group was reassured that the organization was on its way, they just needed to be patient. At this point the group started reaching out to others, in a desperate attempt to find help elsewhere, but suddenly the situation changed dramatically.

Five people, all men, dressed in dark blue military uniforms, faces covered by balaclavas like commandos, carrying guns and batons arrived in their location, they were screaming while pointing guns at them, it was a terrifying.

In the chaos that followed, 3 people, all men, managed to run away and hide, two of the commandos ran after them but wasn’t able to catch them, they gave up after a short chase and returned to the group.

The others masked men had already started to search the group, taking away any belongings they might find, phones, money, bags and papers, people was crying, especially the women and children. Some of the women, the younger ones, had to undress in front of everyone, and was thoroughly searched, it was an humiliating experience.

The group was taken into a dark van and transported away from the area, this happened while the organization was held up by a roadblock by local police, not an unusual tactic, to hinder organizations from assisting new arrivals, giving authorities room to remove people and afterwards claiming that nobody was found.

We have seen this tactic been used for a long time on Lesvos, police setting up roadblocks to avoid unwanted spectators and any interference from NGOs. Organizations have to inform authorities on location of new arrivals, to be allowed to go to assist, this permission might be delayed, and give authorities a window of opportunity to rush to the area and remove people, before organizations are allowed to move in.

When this is not enough, because at times people are difficult to find, the local police puts up roadblocks, stopping organizations on what they call “routine checks”, papers, searching vehicles etc, a process that can take hours. When people have been found and removed, police at the roadblock is informed and the search is over. Organizations heads to the location already given to the authorities hours earlier, to find nothing.

Sometimes the coordination between police at the roadblock and the “hunting party” in the woods is a bit sloppy, and organizations are given the all clear at the roadblock before everything is rapped up. Then organizations are moving in to areas where these masked commandos are still operating, and we get situations like the one in October 20, where a team from MSF arrived on location finding 22 people, three people in handcuffs and four others severely beaten, their attackers, 8 men in dark uniforms wearing balaclavas and carrying guns, ran away when they heard MSF approaching.

The group of 41 people, men, women and children, was taken to a port, forced onto a Greek Coast Guard vessel and quickly taken back out to sea. The group had to sit under a tarpaulin in the front of the boat, hidden to make sure nobody could see what was going on from land or sea.

Soon after they were forced into two life rafts and left helplessly drifting in brought daylight in the middle of the sea. One of the people had managed to hid his phone, and captured this on film, in the video he says “Greece forced us to go back, this is our situation”.

At 15.50 Turkish coast guard found and rescued 41 people, 15 of them small children, from two life rafts drifting outside Dikili, Turkey, after they had been informed by Greek Coast Guard of their location.

After being rescued they informed officers onboard that three people were missing, left behind on Lesvos. Three people were later this day found on Lesvos by organizations and taken to the quarantine facility in Megala Thermi, Lesvos north. The three afghans confirmed that they had been part of a group of 44 afghans who arrived early in the morning, they managed to run away, while the rest of their group was captured by men in military uniform carrying guns, faces covered with balaclavas.

If anyone really wanted to investigate these illegal deportations from the Greek Aegean islands, it’s not very difficult to find witnesses who can confirm these cases, 3 men from the case of December 6 and 22 people from October 20 are now living in the camp on Lesvos, together with hundreds Møre with similar experiences. Strangely enough, after such serious accusations, nobody, not the Greek authorities nor the EU commission has found it necessary to perform such investigations, we can only wonder why not..

Also locals on these islands have observed these “refugee hunters” roaming around on the islands, driving unmarked vehicles without license plates, walking around with balaclavas, carrying guns, but Greek authorities are claiming they are not working for the authorities.. Then who are these commandos working for and why are not Greek authorities interested in stopping these “vigilants”, again we can only wonder..

It’s also a fact that these men in dark uniforms, without any distinction, wearing balaclavas, is also seen on several Greek coast guard vessels, it’s a bit strange if Greek authorities don’t know who are operating their vessels, not only strange but highly unlikely.

At the moment Greek authorities are more interested in criminalizing organizations who are documenting these crimes performed by Greek authorities, than to investigate these violations of international laws and human rights. They launch investigations based on made up charges, leak false accusations to the government friendly press, who without questions publish these lies.

Greek authorities are criminalizing frontline defenders who expose the true face of this right wing government, in a futile effort to discredit their accusers. Anyone criticizing the Greek authorities, politicians, journalists, lawyers or organizations are considered an enemy of the state, they are called out for being human traffickers, spies, Turkish agitators and running criminal networks, all this because we are exposing their crimes for the whole world to see.

The use of spyware against critics and opposition, intimidations, control of the press, violence, criminalization of organizations and individuals who expose them, promoting nationalism and racism, these are well know tactics of a fascistic regime, not a European democracy.

So far over 50.000 people’s rights have been violated by Greek authorities in the Aegean Sea, men women and children threatened, beaten and killed as a result of the Greek “final solution” on border management, this is not the European way of life, nor represents our common European values.

Pushbacks as Border Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illustration picture from a previous case on Lesvos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aegean Boat Report is a participant of the fundraising campaign #StrongerTogether by #LeaveNoOneBehind, you can support by donating on our campaign site.

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Afghan Families Left Drifting in Life Rafts Outside Lesvos

In the morning of Thursday, November 10, a boat carrying 33 people landed west of Gavathas, Lesvos north west.

The flimsy rubber boat had started out from Turkey in cover of darkness, 33 people packed into this small boat, people with hopes for a better future, away from war and persecution, to finally be able to be safe, or it was at least what they had hoped for.

After arriving people fled to the Woodson in the surrounding area to hide from Greek authorities, fearing that if they were found they would be illegally returned to Turkey.

At 09.00 they contacted Aegean Boat Report and asked for assistance, they wanted help so that they could be taken to a camp, and be able to apply for asylum, but they were afraid of Greek authorities and Police, since they had been violently pushed back several times in the past.

The group provided pictures, videos and geolocation data, there was no doubt that this group also had arrived on Lesvos.

We provide them with the necessary means, so that they themselves could act, what happened afterwards is not clear, since we lost contact with them shortly after. The last thing they said before they went offline was that they would contact organizations on the island, if they actually did, we don’t know.

Due to the fact that this group arrived on a weekend, means that they would have had problems finding an organization who would respond on the phone, even do they were given numbers who usually works, these numbers are mostly only operational on weekdays, during daytime.

What we do know is that this group never made it to any camp, they were found by authorities and removed from the island. This is what usually happens when Greek authorities finds people who has arrived, and there is no organization to intervene.

At 20.05 Thursday November 10, 33 people was found drifting in two life rafts outside Dikili, Turkey, families, old people, women, children, even small babies was forced into these two rafts without life jackets.

From pictures sent to us while they were on Lesvos, we can clearly see that they had belongings, bags. When they were found drifting in the rafts outside Dikili 10 hours later, they had nothing, what little they had left in life was stolen from them, bags, papers, money and phones, taken by the same people who forced them back out to sea, the Greek coast guard.

From pictures and videos received while on Lesvos, compared to pictures and videos from the time they were rescued by Turkish coast guard outside Dikili, there is absolutely no doubt: it is the same group.

For normal people, it’s actually quite difficult to comprehend, that a European country, a member of the European Union, would force families, small children, women, old people who can barely walk, back out to sea in the middle of the night, throw them into life rafts and leave them helplessly drifting. When we also know that these atrocities are supported by the European Border And Coast Guard Agency FRONTEX, and handsomely funded by The European Union, it just gets totally incomprehensible.

Why would anyone do such a thing, and why would nobody try to stop it? it’s not as if nobody knows, everyone knows what is being done at Europes borders, it’s not a secret, not any more. EU border agency Frontex and Greek authorities, has been proven to have been involved in hundreds of refugee pushbacks in the Aegean Sea, investigated by EU’s own Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF, and what has so far been done about this, absolutely nothing.

Since March 2020, we have registered 1.826 pushback cases in the Aegean Sea, performed by the Hellenic coast guard, involving 48.486 men, women and children: 642 of these cases was performed by using rescue equipment/life rafts, 16,754 people have so far been found drifting in 993 life rafts in the Aegean Sea.

Almost 1000 life rafts with families, men, women and children who tried to seek safety in Europe, close to 17.000 people, have been found drifting in the Aegean Sea, and so far nobody has bothered to try to do anything about it, if that’s not deafening, noting is.

Just imagine if just one of these life rafts, just one, had been found drifting in the English Channel, placed there by the British authorities, there would have been a political outcry demanding answers, heads would have rolled, huge investigations would have been undertaken. For the almost 1000 life rafts found drifting in the Aegean Sea the last three years, close to 17.000 victims, not one single official investigation has been carried out, not one.

We all know who is responsible, question is, why is nothing done to try to stop it?

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A Family With Several Small Children Left Drifting in a Life Raft Outside Lesvos

Friday night, November 4, a boat carrying approximately 25 people arrived close to Kalo Limani, Lesvos north west.

After arriving people fled to the Woodson in several groups in the surrounding area to hide from Greek authorities, fearing that if they were found they would be illegally returned to Turkey.

Saturday morning at 07.00 Aegean Boat Report was contacted by several groups hiding in the hills around Kalo Limani, they all asked for assistance so that they could be taken to camp and be able to apply for asylum.

They provided documentation on their presence on the island, pictures, videos and location data left no doubt that the groups was on Lesvos.

We tried to provide them with the necessary means, so that they themselves could act, this to try to prevent them from being pushed back. The groups explained that they were part of a bigger group, but the total number of people in the boat they arrived with seemed unclear. From pictures and videos provided we were able to identify approximately 25 people.

Due to the fact that it’s weekend, the newly arrived refugees had problems finding an organization who responded on the phone, even do they were given numbers who usually works, but then mostly only on weekdays.

After 10 hours one of the groups was able to get response, and late on Saturday night, 7 people was located, 3 woman (2 pragment) 3 men and 1 child was eventually found and taken to the quarantine camp in Megala Thermi, Lesvos north.

During the time organizations was not responding, several cars without license plates was observed in the area, and later driving from the area, if there were refugees inside these cars is unknown, but after now knowing that over half the group is missing, it’s highly likely.

Sunday morning, November 6, 3 more people from this group made contact, and was in the afternoon taken to camp in Megala Thermi. A total of 10 people had been found, but as many as 15 more people seemed to be missing from this group.

On Saturday night, November 5, a life raft was found drifting outside Dikili, Turkey carrying 9 people.

From pictures and videos that they had sent while still on Lesvos the previous day, there is no doubt, these 9 people was from the group that arrived the previous day in Kalo Limani, Lesvos north west.

So the question is how did they end up drifting in a Greek manufactured life rafts outside Dikili, Turkey?

By now everyone knows the answer to this, but still Greek authorities continues to deny any involvement, as if these people suddenly had decided to go back, found a life raft and paddled back to Turkey. Not a very plausible explanation but this is what the Greek authorities wants you to believe.

Since March 2020, we have registered 1.807 pushback cases in the Aegean Sea, performed by the Hellenic coast guard, involving 48.083 men, women and children: 636 of these cases was performed by using rescue equipment/life rafts, 16,620 people have so far been left drifting in 986 life rafts in the Aegean Sea

We understand that organizations working on the islands is working under extremely difficult conditions, and that they are doing their best, in a very difficult situation to try to prevent people from being pushed back after they arrive on the island.

When that is said, we can’t help stressing the fact that to have phones only operational on weekdays within office hours, puts vulnerable people, who usually arrives after dark, also on weekends, in an extremely dangerous situation.

When people arrive it’s usually only a matter of time before they are located by authorities, so time is of the essence. When these vulnerable people are trying to make contact with organizations on the ground for over 10 hours, without getting any response, anyone understand that there is a huge potential for improvements.

When these organizations do not want to cooperate with organizations not working locally on these issues, we must urge them to at least give vulnerable people arriving, who are in grave danger of being beaten, robbed and illegally deported, a way on reaching them, and not only on weekdays within working hours.

We must also add that people on the move are extremely grateful for the assistance these individuals and organizations have provided, and we know that things are more difficult and complicated than it might seem standing on the outside looking in. We try to fend for those who contact us as a last cry for help, when something seems to be not working properly, or at times not at all, it’s our responsibility to point this out. We can’t tell desperate people who contact us that we can’t help them, because we can, and we will.

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Another Magic Trick, This Time 104 People “Disappeard”

On Monday 31 October, Aegean Boat Report published about a boat carrying 110 people that ended up in disaster travelling from Turkey to Italy.

After hours drifting due to lack of fuel and engine failure, they were finally rescued by a vessel from the Greek coast guard. The Greek coast guard vessel, a Lambro Halmatic 60, started to tow the boat toward Kalamata, over 800 nautical miles away. This is well documented by videos and pictures taken by the refugees while being towed.

At this point, in any normal situation, one should assume that the people onboard were safe, and that they would be taken to the nearest port of safety in accordance to international laws and the law of the sea, but the situation in Greece these days is nothing but normal. After being towed for more than 20 hours, they closed in on the port in Foinikounta.

At this point this large vessel carrying 104 people (not 110 as we initially reported), a broken engine and without fuel, magically disappeared.

According to a statement from the Hellenic coast guard’s press office, people onboard cut the rope and ‘eloped’, ‘probably heading for Italy’. This was, of course, not their initial response when asked about this “rescue operation”. At that point, they said there was no incident in this area, a strange answer when asked about a rescue operation that had been going on for more than 20 hours, involving more than 100 people.

The following day, when we reported on this case, and it was obvious to everyone that it had in fact had been a rescue operation, their story changed.

When a journalist from Efsyn contacted them asking questions they cooked up an alternative explanation: the people had run away. This was not the brightest explanation but for some reason – maybe desperation or stupidity – the coast guard seemed to believe it was plausible.

I don’t know what is worse, that they were stupid enough to put out such ridiculous explanations, or that they thought people were so stupid that they would believe them.

Let us just say one more time: the boat had no more fuel. Its engine was broken. And the captain – the only one who knew how to drive the boat – had taken off the previous night.

They had willingly been towed for more than 20 hours, almost 70 nautical miles, but when they were nine km from safety of the port in Foinikounta, they magically fixed the engine, produced fuel from sea water, trained a new captain, and ran for Italy…

This is what we wrote on Monday 31 October:

“A boat carrying approximately 104 people, mostly Afghan families, on its way from Turkey to Italy, ended up in disaster in Ionian Sea, inside Greek waters, 80 nautical miles from Kalamata.

The group contacted the Italian coast guard, after giving them their location the group was told to contact Greek coast guard, since they were in Greek waters.

Saturday afternoon, 29 October at 18.00, they connected with Greek rescue services, and around midnight a vessel from the Greek coast guard, a Lambro Halmatic 60 N/Γ SAR-516 arrived at their location.

Shortly after the vessel from the Hellenic coast guard started towing the boat with all passengers onboard, towards Greek mainland, no food or water was provided, even though they asked since they had run out the previous day, and there were many small children onboard.

The boat was towed for more than 20 hours, people onboard was hungry and thirsty, nothing was provided from the coast guard, no food, no water and no information.

People onboard was very concerned on where the coast guard was towing them, scared that they would be pushed back to Turkey. No information was provided, but from locations received we reassured them that they were being towed towards mainland Greece.

At 20.00 the boat was closing in on the port of Foinikounta, and they told us that the rope had been cut, and that three boats were approaching. Through live location we could follow movement towards land, moving up from the port to the main road and moving west at the roundabout, after 550 metres, the movement stopped.

After this point all connection was lost with the group, from Google Maps we can see a building above the road, what structure this is we do not know. Last location received from the phone was from a small shed down from the road, a place that under no circumstances could house more than 100 people.

People rescued in this area are usually taken to Kalamata, why this group was not taken there and instead taken to port in Foinikounta, we don’t know.

We usually get a bit suspicious when all of a sudden connection is lost, and when we try to get information from the Hellenic Coast Guard, they say they have no information. This could of course only be a coincidence, lack of information sharing within HCG, we will try to follow up on this in the coming days.

Information received from the boat carrying more than 100 people can’t be mistaken. We can clearly see the vessel from HCG towing the boat, new locations received every 30 minutes from the boat shows without any doubt that they were in Greek waters, and they were taken to Foinikounta.

So far HCG haven’t confirmed any rescue operation in this area, and there is no information in Greek press, even do this rescue operation has been ongoing for over 20 hours.”

This was all we knew at this point, and yes we were worried. Several things didn’t add up, so what really happened to this large group of people, men, women and children, who had by all accounts been rescued by the Greek coast guard?

On Tuesday 1 November, the Greek newspaper Efsyn published an article about the disappearance of this boat. In their article they cover many questions related to this case.

One of the stranger things in this case is the movement of the mobile phone sending out live location on WhatsApp to Aegean Boat Report.

This phone sent out location data over one hour after last communication with its owner, and the last thing he said was ‘three boats are here, they cut the rope that connected with our boat’. The time was 20.05(EET) and there have been no more messages sent from this phone since then.

According to the press office of the Hellenic coast guard there was no contact between the coast guard and the people onboard before they allegedly cut the rope and drove off.

So how can we explain that the location signal, sending out relatively accurate location data, moved towards land? We follow the movement over approximately 30 minutes, while the phone moved 9km towards land, someone had to have taken this phone to the port, but who, if not the owner himself?

Let’s just pretend, for argument’s sake, that the geolocation signal sent from the phone was corrupted somehow, bad reception or disturbance of some kind sending out wrong location data. it’s then strange that this corrupted location signal would move through the streets of Foinikounta like it was driving a car, not jumping all over the place but only exactly where the streets were, and ending up in an old shed close to the main road.

We could suggest that someone, not the owner himself, took the phone from the owner, 10km from land, transported the phone to land and hid it in this old shed, but why? Why would anyone do such a thing?

What really happened is actually quite obvious, especially when we have proof that without a doubt shows that the Hellenic coast guard press office deliberately lied to a member of the Greek press, in an futile attempt to cover up crimes committed by the coast guard, on direct orders from the Greek authorities.

The Greek coast guard vessel, a Lambro Halmatic 60, N/Γ SAR-516, which had towed the rescued boat carrying 104 people for more than 20 hours, 70 nautical miles, stopped towing 9km from port in Foinikounta, between the islands of Sapientza and Schiza, at 19.49 on Sunday 31 October.

This location was not an accident. It’s a perfect location, protected by the elements between the islands, hidden from the eyes of the public behind the island of Ag.Marina. From land, people couldn’t see anything, even lights.

This operation was well planned, they had more than 20 hours to set everything in motion, a large coast guard vessel was sent to the area to execute orders from the authorities: remove everyone by all means possible.

From information provided by the refugees, we know that three boats approached them after they had stopped 9km from port in Foinikounta, from pictures taken by the refugees onboard, we can see headlights from the boats approaching in the dark.

At this point masked men entered the boat, people onboard were told they would be transported to port by smaller vessels in groups. The refugees understood what was going to happen, some of the men resisted, and were severely beaten. At this point all hell broke loose. The masked men were screaming and shouting, children were crying out of fear, seeing their parents being beaten by commandos in front of them, threatened at gunpoint. No-one was spared, even elderly women were beaten.

Everyone was forced to give up all their belongings, also money and phones, before they were forced onto the smaller boats, the only thing they had left in life were the clothes on their backs.

Their belongings were taken to port by a boat from the local coast guard, and this is why the phones geolocation data showed the phone moving towards port: the phones were not turned off. The phone we received data from continued to send out information until it was turned off, or destroyed, in a small shed on land.

The group of 104 people, families, men, women and children, was forced onto a larger coast guard vessel, placed outside in the cold in the dark. They were told to shut up and look down, anyone disobeying was immediately beaten with batons.

Close to midnight, the large vessel from the Greek coast guard headed back out to sea, toward Turkey, there was no doubt about what was going to happen. For the next 24 hours these people were held captive on a Greek coast guard vessel, against their will, while they were transported almost 600km towards Turkey.

The vessel stopped several times out at sea during the day, as if waiting for something. They waited so they could carry out their crimes under cover of darkness. Close to midnight, the vessel slowed down and eventually stopped

There had been little activity on the lower deck during the day, but now officers started to inflate life rafts on the side of the boat. They inflated the rafts and removed the orange cover that usually protects people inside them from the elements in the open sea.

Why this was done might have something to do with the fact that the manufacturers name is printed on the outside of the cover, and the manufacturer doesn’t see this as good advertisement.

Lalizas, which manufactures these rafts, is a Greek company from Piraeus, and has a contract to provide the Greek coast guard with rescue equipment.

This could explain why people are left in these rafts without the usual protection from the elements: to protect the reputation of their Greek supplier, not the people whom these rafts was made to protect.

Since March 2020, we have registered 1,742 pushback cases in the Aegean Sea, performed by the Hellenic coast guard, involving 46,443 men, women and children: 615 of these cases was performed by using rescue equipment/life rafts, 16,092 people have so far been left drifting in 952 life rafts in the Aegean Sea, and most of these rafts are found without the protective cover.

In the dark, people were forced to climb down and into these rafts. Those who refused, or were scared, were beaten until they complied, thrown down into the raft, or both.

People were terrified, children screaming, but there was no mercy. Eventually everyone had been forced into the rafts, five in total, and the Greek coast guard vessel left and headed back toward Greek waters. 104 people, families, men, woman and small children, were left helplessly drifting in the dark in five life rafts outside Datça, Turkey.

They had no means to call for help, all their phones had been taken by the Greek coast guard. After several hours, at 04.10, the Turkish coast guard found and rescued 104 people from five life rafts drifting outside Datça, Turkey.

From pictures and videos received while onboard the boat towed towards Greece by the Greek coast guard, compared to pictures and videos from the time they were rescued by Turkish coast guard outside Datça, there is absolutely no doubt: it is the same group.

We later received pictures allegedly showing bruises after people had been beaten by Greek officers onboard the coast guard vessel, or after being thrown down in the rafts.

In most countries in Europe an incident like this would have made a national and international outcry. A huge investigation would have been carried out. Not in Greece.

There is no longer any rule of law in Greece, any investigations into similar incidents, even obvious cases like this, would always have the same outcome: no proof of any wrongdoing whatsoever.

One of the victims explaine what happend to his group

So why has this madness been allowed to continue for years in Greece? Why have Europe and the EU looked the other way, while a European country, an EU member, has systematically, in an industrial scale, violated international law, European law and international human rights?

The Greek government refers to what it is doing as ‘border management’, to protect the European border from ‘invaders’. But invasions are carried out by people with weapons, not by families, men, women and children seeking protection from war and persecution.

The Greek authorities assure everyone that they follow international laws, and are not pushing back refugees in the Aegean Sea, when it’s obvious for anyone to see that they are.

But still, the EU is sitting on its hands, letting this continue, even supporting the Greek government in its crimes.

European values and human rights seem only to apply to European, white Christian people. Must we conclude that the EU feels that the rest are expendable, and have no human value?

Push-backs are happening every single day in the Aegean Sea, and the Greek government will continue this inhuman practice, systematically violating people’s human rights, until Europe once again decides to put human rights on the agenda.

If the EU were serious about the values for which it claims to stand, it would immediately launch infringement proceedings against Greece. The fact that they have done nothing at all, makes it appear that those values mean nothing, and that the laws and rights it claims to promote and protect are only for the white: the rest can be cast to the waves.

And people wonder why refugees takes these extremely dangerous journeys from Turkey to Italy in overcrowded boats, in stead of going to Greece. The result of the Greek war on refugees, blessed and financed by EU, are drowning people, not because they are drowning on their way to Greece, but because they are trying to avoid Greece.

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