Help us keep the Aegean Boat Report running! Please donate

MSF found refugees beaten and handcuffed on the Greek island of Lesvos

Last week, Thursday October 20, we published a short report on Facebook about a group of 22 people who had arrived west of Korakas, Lesvos north.

Today, MSF published a press release about this case, explaining that they had found several people from this group handcuffed and injured after being beaten by 7-8 men.

In their press statement they urge the appropriate state authorities to take all necessary measures to prevent and stop such incidents from happening. This is all well and good, and in general any European authority would immediately act on such brutality against refugees, by investigating and trying to find those responsible.

There is only one huge problem, the ones beating, torturing and in some cases even killing, refugees, are doing so on direct orders from the Greek authorities.

Any investigation into these matters, no matter how serious they are, always ends up the same, no crime has been committed or the evidence is not good enough to investigate further, it’s very convenient.

In this case, the group had arrived the night before, just east of Skala Sikamineas. They tried to hide in the dark, in an effort to avoid being found by Greek authorities.

We said: “After arriving people fled to the woods in the surrounding area to hide from Greek authorities, fearing that if they were found they would be illegally returned to Turkey. The group contacted Aegean Boat Report in the early hours of today for assistance, providing documentation on their presence on Lesvos. Pictures, videos and location data left no doubt that the groups were on Lesvos”.

After making sure the group was in fact on Lesvos, we provided them with the necessary means, so that they themselves could act, to try to prevent another pushback.

The group themselves contacted different organisations on the island, to ask for assistance, seemingly including MSF, according to their press statement.

In general, all organisations receiving information about new arrivals must first inform authorities. Organisations usually ask the people who contact them for permission to give their location to authorities, and explain that when they have information authorities, they will also ask permission from authorities to go to the location to give assistance. In this case, it seems MSF was given such permission.

Many probably wonder why give location of new arrivals to authorities, when it’s proven without a doubt that the same authorities are removing people from the islands, leaving them drifting in life rafts in the Aegean Sea. The answer is simple: if they don’t provide this information to authorities, they cannot go to them to help them, as the Greek government has declared it illegal, and people doing so could be arrested and face years in prison on ‘facilitation’ charges.

To help people without permission from authorities is a crime in Greece, it shouldn’t be but it is. In this case, according to information we received while communicating with the group, MSF was prevented by local police from providing assistance, even though they had been given such approval by authorities.

At the time we didn’t read much into this. It’s done frequently to try to stop organisations from helping new arrivals. Assistance is delayed for hours, sometimes just because the authorities can deny it, and at other times deliberately to delay organisations reaching newly-arrived refugees, so that authorities can remove them and illegally deport them back to Turkey.

But despite not believing this to be unusual, we then received a very short, but nevertheless very worrying voice message. It lasted just three seconds, but we immediately understood that something was not as it should be.

Shortly after this, all contact was lost. We feared the group had been found by authorities and arrested. But some hours later, we were informed that 22 people – seven children, six women and nine men – had been found, safe, and were on their way to the quarantine camp in Megala Therma.

Reading MSF’s statement today, the bits and pieces of information about what happened fall into place.

The police stopped MSF on the road and wanted to check all kinds of papers, delayed them for at least one hour, while a group of 7-8 commandos was searching the area to find the group.

The government was given the location of the group through normal procedures on the islands, but this time they wanted to take advantage of this information to remove them before organisations could reach them, and had sent their ‘refugee hunters’ to the area.

The voice message we received was when these men found the group. All hell broke loose; total chaos, people fearing for their lives.

The men had called out to the group that they were doctors sent to help, to try to gain their trust. The refugees of course knew the real doctors had been stopped by police.

The group was attacked from several directions, masked men started to beat people, some with their bare hands, other used batons, several were injured.

One of the men in the group of 22 people used his phone to take pictures and videos of the beatings. The imposters caught him and took his phone. They were very angry, so nobody else tried, fearing being beaten up as well.

As described in the press statement, four men were injured and taken to hospital, three others were found handcuffed with plastic zip ties.

“As we were approaching the location, on a mountain, we started hearing people screaming, a lot of screaming, we were worried and started running in their direction. When we arrived, we found 22 people,” says MSF’s Lesvos project coordinator Teo Di Piazza.

“Everybody was crying; women, children and men. Three people were handcuffed very tightly with plastic bundles. Four others were injured. Based on their reports, the injuries were due to violence from a group of people who had left when we approached.”

Just before MSF arrived on scene these men ran away, and MSF say they did not see them, but the people from the group have given information that could indicate who these 7-8 men were. If MSF had been further delayed, and not arrived when they did, this group would most definitely have been pushed back to sea, left helplessly drifting in life rafts, as so many thousands before them.

It was 7-8 people, all men, in normal clothes, three in black balaclavas, the rest covering their faces with neck gaiters. All wore sunglasses, gloves and had ‘army boots’. One had a pistol strapped to his leg. Several used batons. One of the men covering his face with a neck gaiter was bald, another had very short hair. All looked athletic.

These guys knew exactly what they were doing, they were trained, no local vigilantes would operate in this manner. They had done this many times before. They were professionals, no doubt about it.

The information provided strongly suggests they were military personnel or police special forces, specifically on the islands to ‘hunt’ refugees, on direct orders from the Greek authorities. Just before MSF arrived, and the group vanished, we have been told they communicated with someone over a small radio, indicating they had assistance, and most likely communicated with local police.

One hour later, at approximately 14.00, four suspicious vehicles were observed in Mantamados heading south, two cars and a motorcycle in front, behind them a dark van without license plates.

These cars driving around on the islands without license plates is in fact quite strange. If any civilian took a car out like this, it would immediately be stopped by police, because it’s illegal.

The strange thing is, these cars have been observed several times around the islands over the last two years, and seem to be allowed to do so by police. As a result, it’s quite obvious that they belong to the authorities, or they would have been stopped long ago.

This case is unfortunately not the only one, because these ‘hunters’ have been allowed to torment, beat and torture hundreds, if not thousands, of people on direct orders from Greek authorities in the name of ‘border protection’.

Families, men, women and children, have been rounded up like cattle, threatened, beaten and forced back to sea by these criminals, left helplessly drifting in life rafts in the Aegean Sea.

This is not the actions of local vigilantes, it’s a systematic process that involves local police, special forces, the Coastguard and Frontex, and it could only be done if the orders were given directly by the Greek authorities.

So, what is done to stop this madness?

Absolutely nothing.

This is what these days is considered ‘normal’ in Greece and especially on the Greek Aegean islands. Everyone working on these islands knows, but people are too scared of the consequences of speaking up.

One way or another, this needs to stop.

If you want to support the work of Aegean Boat Report this link will take you to our donation section: https://aegeanboatreport.com/donate/

Children Phused Back at Gunpoint by Greek Authorities

In the early hours of October 1, a rubber boat carrying 43 afghans, 15 of them small children, set out from Cumhuriyet, Dikili, Turkey, destination Lesvos.

At first light the boat was closing in on Lesvos, but deep inside Greek waters they were stopped by a vessel from the Greek coast guard, at gunpoint they were forced to turn the boat around and head back towards Turkish waters.

The vessel visible in the videos is 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, one reported by Aegean Boat Report on 19 February 2021, and in August 2020 an investigation was published on the Border Violence Monitoring Network, involving the boat in queastion.

19 February 2021 Lesvos

1 October 2022 Lesvos

Masked men in dark naval uniforms pointing machine guns down toward them from the coast guard vessel, telling them that if anyone used their phone to film, they would take all their phones.

With a rope they ripped the engine off the rubber boat, leaving the 43 people helplessly drifting in the middle of the sea just inside Turkish waters.

Translation from the video above: “Hi today is 01/10
We were going to the island, Greek police arrested us, they took the motor and the oil of our boat, and left us in the middle of the sea. There are a lot of kids here, they threatened us and said if you don’t go we will beat you up. They were throwing a rope at us trying to hit us. Now we are in the middle of the sea and we called Turkey coastguard, and they didn’t come yet. The Greek coastguard is over there, they brought us here and, waiting over there. The coastguard is there. There is the island, and there is Turkey. And it’s morning”.

People onboard still had their phones, and called Turkish coast guard to be rescued, at 07.43 Turkish coast guard found and rescued the group drifting outside Dikili, Turkey.

We often hear Greek officials, talk about border management, how they intercepts boat’s at sea and force them to turn around and go back to Turkey, this is how it’s done, by force at gun point, in direct violation of international laws and human rights.

Both the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Notis Mitarachi, Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, have openly confirmed that they stop boats at sea, pushing them back to Turkey, this is illegal under international law.

Greek authorities is claiming that they are not doing anything illegal, they have the sovereign right to protect its borders, that the way it’s done is in direct violation of international law, European Law, The law of the sea’s and human rights, seems to be irrelevant for Greek authorities.

Greece is heavily supported by EU and it’s Border and coast guard Agency Frontex. A week ago the OLAF report was published by Spiegel, the report concluded that Frontex were involved in covering up the illegal pushbacks of asylum seeker from Greece to Turkey in violation of their fundamental rights, serious misconduct and other irregularities.

Since March 2020, we have registtered 1690 pushback cases in the Aegean Sea, performed by the Hellenic coast guard, involving 45.147 men, women and children, 610 of these cases was performed by using rescue equipment/life rafts, 15.831 people was left drifting in 935 life rafts in the Aegean Sea.

If you want to support the work of Aegean Boat Report this link will take you to our donation section: https://aegeanboatreport.com/donate/

An epic blunder

Yesterday the right-wing pro government tv channel Skai, who eagerly supports the ruling government, made yet another blunder. An “exclusive” video was published, supposedly proving the well known rhetoric by Greek authorities on instrumentalization of refugees by Turkish authorities, but also trying to incriminate NGOs that supposedly had helped refugees to cross the border.

The video that they claimed to be “exclusive” material received from Greek authorities from confiscated phones, was in fact published by EFSYN on May 26, almost five months ago, from a case where 94 people had been pushed back by Greek authorities.

The information in the video is quite clear, both what we see and what we hear, but for some strange reason the journalist translated what was said in a way that totally changes the story, most likely deliberately to support their angle, “As the English-speaking woman tells the border guards, the organization helped them get there and notified them that they would come and pick them up”, as you clearly can hear, this is totally wrong.

In this case the tv station messed up, instead of supporting the government narrative, they actually did the opposite. This group of 94 people was never rescued by Greek authorities, according to officials they were never found. In the video we can of course see that Greek border guards are talking to the refugees, so to claim they were never found, would in most countries be futile, but not in Greece, as long as they are supported by the press they can claim anything, no matter how obvious the lie is.

On May 24 the organizations Greek Council for Refugees and HumanRights360 was contacted by a group of 94 refugees from Syria who were trapped for days on an islet of Evros, among them dozens of children.

They submitted an urgent request for interim measures to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), to ensure that the people had immediate humanitarian and medical assistance. Just a few hours later, the ECtHR granted the interim measures, ordering the Greek government not to remove the 94 refugees from the Greek territory, and to offer them access to food, water and adequate medical treatment. With the same ruling, the ECtHR is also asking the Greek government to provide to the Court official information on the whereabouts of the refugees, on whether the refugees have been able to submit an asylum application and if they indeed submitted one, and on whether they received legal assistance throughout this process.

On may 25 the Greek authorities was given an urgent order from the ECtHR to locate and rescue the group of 94 people, Greek authorities lied to the European Court, claiming the group was never found. They had carried out a search in the area on May 27, but could not find anyone in the given location. As we can see in the video, Greek authorities deliberately lied to the European Court.

On May 28, EFSYN published that the group had been violently pushed back to Turkey. “a large number of commandos with masked faces arrived on the islet late Thursday night, accompanied by a group of Arabic speakers, who were translating the orders. The information says that the commandos violently beat refugees, forced them to take off their clothes, removed mobile phones and personal belongings and transported them to the Greek bank of the Evros, from where they were then returned to Turkey”.

So if Skai TV actually got the video from “confiscated material found on the mobile phone of one of the 94 migrants who were located at the spot”, confiscated by the Hellenic Police, further proves that information provided by the refugees, that their belongings had been taken before they had been pushed back, was correct, a major blunder by the tv station.

We must assume that the Tv station is not also lying about where they got this material from, they could of course since they are lying about everything else, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt on this point. That would actually prove that the Greek authorities found the group, stole all their belongings before pushing them back to Turkey, even forcing them to take of their clothes, sounds strangely familiar to a resent case in this area..

It’s not as we didn’t know this already, the case was published in the press almost five months ago. And in general we are not even shocked, because this is the way Greek authorities have been treating refugees on its borders for years, systematically violating international law and human rights.

The “shocking” part in this was that a right-wing pro government tv station Skai, could find themselves proving pushbacks by Greek authorities, while trying to do the opposite, stupidly has no limits. Similar stupidity was shown by the Greek minister of migration Notis Mitarachi earlier this month, when he tried to push an 3 year old video as a “push forward” by Turkish authorities, when in fact the video showed Turkish coast guard preventing a boat from crossing into Greek waters.

When stupidity is considered patriotism, it is unsafe to be intelligent.

Several videos was published by efsyn, there was no doubt that the group was on a small island on the Greek side of the river.

“Of the thirty children we have, only ten are good. By tomorrow they will die without water and food. No one listens to us, neither commandos nor the United Nations nor anyone. We ask for help. We are trapped here without water and food. My daughter is six months old I give her water from the river to stop crying. We eat the soil and leaves of trees. Please help us as quickly as possible because the children will die”.

“The smugglers brought us here and left us. I have an amputated leg, it is also inflamed and it is progressing I need help immediately please very much”.

“We are Syrians, we were brought by the smugglers on the Greek side, we are on an islet, with us small children, women, sick and disabled. We have neither water, nor food, nor pampers. There are also many injured. We ask for your support, we ask you, please, to save us. Look at the girl swollen her eye… Look the kids have all gotten sick. Look it’s raining on us and underneath us is mud. Please help us, we have been here for about ten days”.

If you want to support the work of Aegean Boat Report this link will take you to our donation section: https://aegeanboatreport.com/donate/

There is no longer any doubt

Aegean Boat Report have been documenting pushbacks and from the Aegean Sea and the Greek Aegean islands for years, performed by Greek authorities.

For this we have been frequently targeted, unfounded investigations initiated by authorities have been “leaked” to Greek press, a scare tactic to get us to back off. The Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis has several times put forward allegations of human trafficking and espionage, without any evidence of such crimes, because none of the allegations are true.

Nevertheless, with Greek media in his pocket, these attacks have been published without question, and without Greek journalists from the papers publishing these articles even once contacting us so we could comment on these unfounded accusations.

Yesterday, the investigation by European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), on allegations of misconduct within Frontex in connection with human rights violations at the EU’s external borders was published, not by the European Commission, but by investigative journalists from Spiegel.

The report was so damaging when it came out that it was deemed classified, and was only presented to selected members of the ‘Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs’ (LIBE) Parliamentary Committee, while the public was kept in the dark.

For almost 8 months this report has been known by members of parliament, but nothing has been done. Fragments of the report were later published in international press, after investigative journalists from Der Spiegel got hold of a copy of it.

According to these fragments, human rights violations had been committed in the Aegean Sea by Greek authorities with assistance from Frontex. After the leaked information was published, the Executive Director of Frontex, Fabricio Leggeri resigned. He was well aware of what he had done, and at least had the “common decency” to abandon ship before it went down. The same cannot be said of others involved in this cover up in the commission.

After reading the 123 page report, it’s quite astonishing that EU so far, after almost 8 months, has taken no action against the Greek government. It is quite clear that pushbacks and violence at Greek borders are widespread, systematic and a de facto policy of keeping refugees out of the Europe.

It must also be said that the Greek government carried out its own investigation into the allegations of pushbacks and human rights violations, finding no evidence on either. Not a very surprising result, since the criminal is investigating its own crimes. The investigation was carried out by Greece’s National Transparency Authority (NTA), that supposed to be independent, this is not the case, NTA has close ties to the right-wing ruling party in Greece, New Democracy (ND), and it’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

The OLAF report gives indisputable evidence not only of Frontex’s mismanagement under Leggeri, but also of human rights violations and maritime pushbacks by the Greek authorities, who leave refugees adrift in inflatable life rafts in the Aegean, still routinely dismissed by the Greek government as “fake news” and Turkish propaganda.

The findings in the OLAF report leave absolutely no opportunity for the Greek authorities to deny pushbacks, nor to continue to cover them up. Over the last years the majority of Greek press has eagerly defended their government against allegations on pushbacks. It will be interesting to see how they now will follow this up, after the publication of this report.

In the past any attempt to hold Greek authorities responsible for pushbacks and human rights violations has been dismissed as Turkish propaganda, with people claiming that those publishing these reports have been influenced and even paid by Turkey to undermine the Greek authorities. That will not fly this time that’s for sure.

The publication of the OLAF investigation is a huge blow for the Greek authorities, who to this day have categorically denied any involvement in pushbacks and human rights abuses. So far, there has been no comment on this report by Greek officials. The Greek press is also unusually quiet, and mainstream media haven’t mentioned it at all, if the press had been truly independent in Greece, this would have spread like wildfire, as “breaking news”. But it has not, and we can only wonder why.

Some of the findings in the report have, as I mentioned, been previously published, but when reading it – and you should – it’s mind blowing how the management of Frontex has systematically, over several years, covered up violations performed by the Greek authorities.

That nobody responsible in the Commission has so far been forced to resign, is a cause for concern and shows that nobody is taking any real responsibility in one of the biggest scandals in the Commission’s history.

That none of those responsible in the Commission are held responsible, and left office for serious misconduct, especially Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, Vice President for ‘Protecting our European Way of Life’ Maragaritas Schinas, and indeed the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, raise questions that hopefully will be answered in the coming weeks.

The new Executive Director of Frontex, Aija Kalnaja, appointed after Leggeri’s resignation in April 2022, seems keen to putting all problems behind her, and focus on the future of Frontex, without doing a proper clean-up. To put a new leadership in to continue as is, with the same culture, structure and systems that are now proven to be used in systemic human rights abuses for years, will only mean that it’s business as usual for Frontex. This is not acceptable.

And the practice is still ongoing, Frontex is continuing its support of the Greek government, assisting them in these violations. It’s a case of new management, same practice.

There is no longer any doubt that Frontex has over several years been involved in, observed, and covered-up repeated serious violations of human rights in Greece, and that Greek authorities systematically violate international laws and human rights on their borders on an industrial scale, putting human lives at risk in the name of ‘border management’.

In a statement made today, Frontex’ Executive Management board simply proved it does not recognise with any clarity the agency’s fundamental problems. It appears to refuse to take in the gravity and seriousness of the situation they have put themselves in, behaving as if all its problems will disappear because it now has a new manager.

We are afraid we must say that what has become the culture in Frontex is like cancer. It has been allowed to grow unchecked. It must be cut out, or the ’patient’ will die, even as it literally kills men, women and children on Greece’s borders.

From the information now revealed, Frontex has only one option, to invoke article 46 of Regulation (EU) 2019/1896 to terminate its operations at the Greece-Turkey border, and immediately stop all financial support to all operations in Greece.

Furthermore, if Frontex should continue to exist, a serious restructuring of the organisation and its mandate is not only necessary, but crucial to its existence.

Frontex’ reputation is not only damaged, it’s destroyed.

The EU Commission must also take actions against the Greek government, economic sanctions until Greek authorities can once again document and prove that rule of law is reinstated.

The head of Frontex resigned, it’s now time for the Greek government to do the same. Its systematic abuse of power has no place in a European democracy.

If you want to support the work of Aegean Boat Report this link will take you to our donation section: https://aegeanboatreport.com/donate/

Statement

We are perturbed and annoyed to once again be the subject of mischievous and entirely untrue claims from the Greek Minister of Migration Notis Mitarachis.

We feel we must state publicly that his comments about Aegean Boat Report, specifically the claim that we ‘work with’ and ‘help’ Turkish ‘people traffickers’ and the claim that we are ‘funded by the East’ are entirely without merit.

They are false.

We do not help Turkish traffickers. We have not, do not, and will never work with or assist people traffickers from any part of the world. The absolute best we can say about Mr. Mitarachis’ claim is that he certainly does not know it to be true (because it is not). In fact, we believe he knows that it is not, in which case what he said was a lie.

We are not ‘funded by’ the ‘East’.

Some of our grant funding has come from within Norway, where we are based. Norway is not ‘the East’. It is considerably further west than Greece, which we would hope Mr. Mitarachis knows. We were also given a grant by a donor in Belgium, and another from the UK. If it helps Mr. Mitarachis for us to do so, we are happy to note here that the UK and Belgium are further west than Norway, which is, as we have ascertained, some distance further west than Greece.

The rest of our money comes from private donations made through fundraising campaigns. These donations have come from all over Europe, almost all of which is also west of Greece.

Both claims Mr. Mitarachis has made about us are false, and it is impossible to believe that he does not know this. Deliberately spreading false information is lying.

Many of you will have noted by now that we were forced to make similar statements about similar claims made by Mr. Mitarachis almost two years ago. As we pointed out at the time, those claims, too, were entirely false.

Absolutely no action has been taken as a result of those claims.

But this deliberate smearing of us as an organisation, carried out simply because we work to expose Mitarachis’ law-breaking which results in deaths in the Eastern Aegean, is a waste of our time, a waste of Mitarachis’ time, and a waste of the time of the Greek public, for whom he peddles these petty, spiteful and baseless attacks.

We must request that he ceases his campaign against us immediately so that we can continue our work, and he can try to do far better than his so far woeful record in his own position.

Stupid is what stupid does..

Today the Greek minister of migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, once again tried to manipulate the truth on Twitter, not very successfully but nevertheless he tried. It’s not the first time he has blatantly lied and published fake news on social media, but this time his efforts wasn’t very successful, at least if you are looking for the truth.

He published a 3 year old video that he had snatched from YouTube, claiming it to be prof of Turkish pushing people towards Greece. He forgot to mention how old the video was, and where he got the video from.

His twitter post has gotten huge response, all the maggots is crawling out of the woodwork to feed, it’s actually quite fascinating to see how people just forgets to use their brains.

The original video was posted several places online, this one from YouTube on September 8, 2019.

The case is originally from September 5, on the coast of Madra Çayi, where a boat carrying 46 people, 35 Syrians and 11 Palestinians, tried to cross from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesvos.

In 2019 Turkey had a deal with EU, to stop anyone from crossing the border from Turkey into the EU, the so called EU-Turkey deal. Turkey was basically paid billions of Euros to keep anyone from crossing the border, and they did, many times violently, as documented by Aegean Boat Report in this period.

A boat tried to outrun TCG outside Bademli 04.55 on Saturday. After some dangerous maneuvering, they where stopped. 08.07.2018 Boat was heading towards Lesvos south. 46 people.

This particular case was criticized on social media in such an extent that the Turkish authorities found it necessary to put out a press statement, claiming that they did not do what appears to be the case in the video.

The case also found its way to Turkish press, it ended up being a rather profiled incident.

I don’t know what kind of people are advising the minister, or if this was purely done by him himself, but this is a blunder that seems to show that someone is getting quite desperate.

In his post on Twitter today he claimed that the boat was pushed towards Greece while in fact it was actually stopped by Turkish authorities. But it didn’t stop there, he even tried to play the hero card, by saying the people was saved by Greece, they were not, all 46 was in fact taken back to Dikili, Turkey.

How could he have been so stupid, when trying to push fake news, to use a video from a very well known case that is obviously not even close to showing what he claims. Stupidity comes in all shapes and sizes, some of them even looks like people..

This case was quickly picked up by mainstream press in Greece, and the ministers fake news is reproduced in government friendly press all over the country. Perhaps that was his intention, because anything negative on Turkey is spread like wildfire, true or not do not matter, as long as it feeds the narrative of the Greek authorities. I wonder if his blunder will get the same attention in the press, I doubt it, because government friendly Greek press is actually paid handsomely to publish anything that comes from the government.

It’s interesting to not, that when videos filmed by refugees showing Turkish coast guard doing something illegal, it’s according to Mitarachi proof. When refugees film Greek coast guards doing something wrong it’s fake news and Turkish propaganda. How does that make any sense?

One thing that was quite fascinating, besides the obvious fake news, was the way he wrote it. First he say Turkey is “pushing forward migrants to Greece”, then when they were heroically saved by Greece they are suddenly refugees. So when talking about Turkey he uses the negative word “migrants”, but when talking about Greece he uses the more positive word “refugees”, how fascinating.

Once again Notis Mitarachi has made himself looking like a fool. How it’s possible to be so stupid, and at the same time be a minister in the Greek government, is actually quite worrying. One should think that people holding high positions in government, should have more flow in the attic than is shown her.

Lebanon, The Forgotten Crises

Lebanese people making the dangerous journey from Lebanon across the Mediterranean in pursuit of safety and a better life should not come as a surprise to the governments and people of the West.

The world has turned a blind eye to a country which is in a harrowing situation and amidst a dangerous crisis.

Two weeks ago, 84 people tried to make the dangerous journey towards Italy in a sailboat. They ended up in distress outside Rhodes.

The group was rescued by the Greek coastguard, which then set them adrift on four life rafts on the Greek-Turkish border. We at Aegean Boat Report reported that eleven people died, seven of them small children, when the life raft they had been placed in deflated in the middle of the sea. Their deaths were the direct result of a pushback performed by the Greek authorities.

Our strategic partner Salam Norway, which provides financial assistance to their parent organisation Salam LADC (the Lebanese Association for Communication and Development) works in the region, and provides us with in-depth knowledge about the realities faced by the Lebanese population.

People are forced to choose between feeding themselves or their children on a daily basis, because food prices have increased by 332 per cent, the world’s worst food inflation in the first half of 2022.

Nor can Lebanese people afford transport to work or school.

Children are dropping out of school. Education, a fundamental human right, cannot be accessed by children and young people because the price of gasoline has increased by 1,727 per cent, and the price of diesel by 2,900 per cent.

Salam LADC, works in Kawkaba, Beirut, and Central Bekaa, which is home to its largest operation, to help people affected by this economic catastrophe.

The non-religious organisation runs 22 projects, of which 13 are held at its Community Centre, which hosts 79 classes per week with 599 registered beneficiaries of Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian nationalities. Salam LADC does not discriminate on race, gender, ethnicity, religion or political affiliation.

Salam LADC’s work is invaluable in Lebanon’s time of crisis, but funding is drying up, and the world’s eye is elsewhere. Salam Norway and Salam LADC support vulnerable communities before they ever reach the Aegean, to help ensure they never need to make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.

They empower people through sustainable projects, and provide long-term solutions. This can only continue with your support.

For more information: Website: www.salamnorway.no Instagram: salamnorway Facebook: facebook.com/salamladcnorway

Pushback Nr. 1630

This morning at 05.30 a group of 17 people contacted Aegean Boat Report from the small Greek island of Marmaras, west of Simi.

They had arrived on the island before first light, in the dark they believed that they had arrived on Simi. After first light they understood that they had landed on a small cliff island 5 km from Simi. Their rubber boat was torn when they hit the rocks, and they could not get off the island without help.

We gave them the only advice we could under the circumstances, to call 112 and inform Greek authorities. Greek coast guard is the only rescue service in Greek waters, there is no other alternative. We of course knew that this most likely would lead to another pushback, but as mentioned, there are no other alternative when they have arrived on an inhabited island.

The group consisted of 17 people, 15 men and two women, Palestinians and Syrians.

While on Marmaras, the group provided pictures, videos and geolocations, there was absolutely no doubt that they were on the island.

They listened to our advice and called 112, hours passed and nothing happened. At 08.30 the group reported that a Greek coast guard vessel was approaching. From videos we can clearly see a Lambro 57 Coastal Patrol vessel. The number on the vessel seems to be ΛΣ-143, but there is no doubt that the vessel belongs to the Hellenic Coast Guard. People said the Greek Coast Guard was there, but they are only watching and taking pictures.

One hour later, at 09.30 all contact with the group was lost, we assumed that the coast guard had arrived, and that their phones had been taken away from them as they usually do before a pushback.

We contacted the Joint Rescue and Coordination Center in Piraeus, to try to get any information from the Hellenic coast guard on the whereabouts of the 17 people from Marmaras, strangely enough they said that they had no information on any activities in this area. This was of course a lie, they had a vessel in the area, we could see it clearly in the videos sent by the refugees on Marmaras, and JRCC Piraeus knows the exact location on all their vessels at any given time.

At this point we were certain that this group would not be taken to the nearest port of safety, but find themselves drifting in a life raft in the Aegean Sea in a few hours.

After four hours we regained contact with the group on two different phone numbers, they were again asking for help, this time not from a Greek island, but from a life raft drifting north of Simi, deep inside Turkish waters.

The pictures and videos we received clearly showed that the group was inside a orange life raft, and the people in the videos was without a doubt the same people we spoke to while on Marmaras, only four hours ago.

Aegean Boat Report contacted the Turkish coast guards Maritime Rescue Sub Centre, to inform, so that people could be saved as quickly as possible, without loss of life. They could inform us that they already had been informed, by an email from the Greek coast guard. One hour later Turkish coast guard confirmed finding and rescuing 17 people from a life raft drifting outside Datça, Turkey.

In this case it seems the coast guard was in a hurry, or they hadn’t read the memo from the government, because they didn’t steal their belongings, and everyone had their phones so that they could call for help. In this case we asked them to film from inside the life raft, something that is usually not possible because the coast guard removes all their belongings.

If this had been an isolated incident, it perhaps had been due to some kind of miscommunication or misunderstanding, but unfortunately this is far from isolated.

Since March 2020 44.000 people have been pushed back in the Aegean Sea by Greek authorities, 920 life rafts have been found drifting, carrying over 16.000 people, and numbers are rapidly increasing. So far this year 380 rubber boats and 440 life rafts have been found drifting, over 18.000 people’s rights have been violated in just nine months.

Greek authorities are assuring everyone that they are following international laws, and not pushing back refugees in the Aegean Sea, when it’s obvious for anyone to see, that they are responsible. But still EU is sitting on their hands, letting this continue, even supporting Greece in their crimes. European values and human rights seems only to apply for European, white Christian people, the rest are expendable, and have no longer any human value.

Push-backs are happening every single day in the Aegean Sea, and Greece will continue this inhuman practice, systematically violate people’s human rights, until Europe once again decides to put human rights back on the agenda. At the moment everyone is looking the other way, hoping that things will change, without their involvement, it won’t.. At the moment Europe is a disgrace, and embarrassment, against everything we once held highly, we seems to have lost our way, it will forever be a stain on history..

Just Another Pushback

Friday September 2, Aegean Boat Report published about a sailboat carrying 55 people, 9 women, 1 child and 45 men, that was drifting 27 km south east of Kythira.

The boat was drifting due to lack of fuel, the driver of the boat abandoned them during the night, there were nobody onboard that was trained to sail a boat.

The Greek coast guard had been given all necessary information to initiate a rescue operation, Unfortunately they didn’t, the boat and people, that needed immediate rescue, was left drifting.

People onboard begged for help, there are no rescue boats in the Aegean Sea, anyone in distress in Greek waters fully relies on the Hellenic coast guard, unfortunately they are less willing to help, and when they do, people have a tendency to magically disappear to reappear in life rafts in Turkish waters.

We hoped that the Greek coast guard would do their utmost to rescue people in distress, and take them to a port of safety, this is unfortunately not the case in Greece.

Late at night, on September 2, we lost contact with the boat. Several times we contacted the Greek coast guard, but they told us that they had found no boat in the area.

Saturday September 3 we regained contact with the sailboat, the boat had then drifted 110km, no effort had been taken by the Greek Coast Guard to rescue the 55 people in distress. They told us they had no reception in their phones, most likely because there were no signal this far out in the sea.

During the night a Greek Coast Guard vessel has approached the sailboat four times, two times trying to communicate, but after a while they moved away without trying to rescue them.

The boat was drifting in heavy winds towards the north west of Crete, if nothing was done, they would drift straight to the holiday resort in Lavris, only 25 km away.

From videos received we could clearly see that it was windy, report on 5-6 Beaufort in the area.

People onboard had called the international emergency number 112 numerous times, but nothing was done by the Greek Coast Guard to try to assist the sailboat in distress.

A vessel from the Greek Coast Guard had been following them from a distance, normally people in distress at sea would be rescued after informing rescue services, in Greek waters this is not the case, at least not for refugees.

People onboard the sailboat said, “we are still drifting, nobody comes to help us, they are only watching from a distance, we need help”. The boat was 20 km from Crete, and would reach land in approximately 4 hours.

The boat continued to drift toward land, last information from the boat was in the afternoon on September 3, a vessel with masked and armed men, was approaching the sailboat in high speed, this happened only 12 kilometers from land on Crete, all contact was lost shortly after, contact was never restored.

We feared that the group would not be rescued, masked men carrying weapons isn’t normal in a rescue operation, and we knew that a pushback was imminent.

We contacted the Greek Coast Guard again, to inform on the latest developments, but they told us, as they had before, that no boat was found, and that they had no ongoing operations in the area. When we told them that a boat with armed masked commandos was approaching the boat, they hung up the phone. It’s quite obvious that they knew, they just didn’t want to talk to us about it.

Just after midnight on September 4, the Turkish coast guard found and rescued 58 people from three life rafts drifting outside Datcha, Turkey.

Comparing pictures and videos taken on the sailboat outside Crete, with pictures and video from when they were rescued by the Turkish coast guard, leaves no doubt, it’s the same group.

58 people, men, women and children, was first rescued by the Greek coast guard, then transported, not to a port of safety, but across the Aegean Sea, over 300 km, forced into three life rafts and left helplessly drifting at sea.

This shows that they are willing to go to great lengths, to deny refugees their right to apply for asylum. Greece are showing that they can continue this by all means possible, because Europe is doing nothing to interfere, crimes against humanity blessed by the European Commision.

It’s clear for everyone that the group could not have moved from the north west of Crete to the sea area outside Datch, over 300 km away, by themselves, in life rafts, without any form of engine, someone had to have done this, and who other than the Greek coast guard could possibly be responsible?

Since March 2020, more than 40,000 people have been pushed back in the Aegean Sea by Greek authorities, 860 life rafts have been found drifting, and numbers are rapidly increasing. So far this year, more than 300 rubber boats and 400 life rafts have been found drifting in the Aegean Sea, 15.000 people’s rights have been violated in just eight months.

European values and human rights seem only to apply for Europeans, white Christian people, while the rest are expendable and no longer have any human value. If the EU were serious about It’s values, it would immediately launch infringement proceedings against Greece. The fact that they have done nothing at all, makes it appear that those values means nothing.

Perhaps there is hope after all, thank you Agathonisi

When a boat arrived on the Greek island of Agathonisi yesterday, we feared the worst, people was scared, hiding from authorities in fear of being illegally sent back to Turkey.

After arriving they split up in several smaller groups, some moved quickly away from the area, other stayed in the area hiding in fear of being found by Greek authorities and removed from the island.

A group of 7, 3 men, 2 women and 2 children contacted Aegean Boat Report for assistance, they want to apply for asylum in Greece, but have been pushed back 5 times before, they are scared this will happen also this time.

There has been several groups arriving on Agathonisi lately, non of them have been given the opportunity to apply for asylum, all of them have been illegal removed from the island by Greek coast guard and found themselves drifting in life rafts in the Aegean Sea.

We feared that the same faith awaited this group, and we were given permission from the group to publish their case, in hope that this could make a difference.

The group was moving slowly, small children, one two months and a three year old girl, one of the men needed medical attention, he had thyroid cancer and diabetes, could only walk for 5 minutes at a time.

On social media we urged people to try to intervene, the group desperately needed protection, but under the current circumstances, on this island, we had no possibility to do so, perhaps our prayers were heard.

While walking toward the village they met a local on the road, he couldn’t speak English, but he understood that they needed help, and walked with them toward the village. Another local joined them on the road, and together they met local police further down the road. A kind and unselfish gesture, the kind of behavior I’m all too familiar with, from the start of the refugee crisis back in 2015.

The group of 7 was transported to the port on Agathonisi in a small red car, locals was kind enough to drive them, seeing that some of them had problems walking.

Down in the port the small group was given two rooms, nothing fancy, a balcony, beds and a view over the port, it was more than they expected. This kind of hospitality is a pleasant breath from the past, what used to be, but not anymore.

After a while the rest of their group arrived in the port, at first everyone was staying outside, down in the port, but the most vulnerable, families, children and women, was given a roof over their heads before nightfall.

The group was given sandwiches, water and diapers for the babies, the group felt that they had been taken care of, and was very grateful for the assistance given to try to ensure that they would not be pushed back.

Police had assured the group that they would be taken to the refugee camp on Samos the following day. What happened yesterday came as a very pleasant surprise, local police and the local community had protected the group of vulnerable people. Why this sudden change of tone we don’t know, but that publicity or public pressure had something to do with it I’m certain.

Police first took the phones away from the group, after a while they gave the phones back, and told them to contact Aegean Boat Report and say that everyone was ok, no need to publish more about them on Facebook.

Aegean Boat Report continued to follow the group throughout the night, some was still not sure that everything was ok, and they feared the the Greek police was lying to them, so that they could push them back in the morning. We ensured the group that this was not a very likely outcome, there had been too much attention on their arrival, not only on the island but also on social media.

This morning we could see that everyone had gathered in the port, waiting for the ferry that would take them to the refugee camp on Samos. People was in good spirit, but uncertain on what the future had in store for them, we could se it in their faces.

A Italian tourist, Simona, that had been on Agathonisi on holiday for two weeks, was kind enough to provide the group with food, water and coffee in the port, she also made sure that the babies had something to eat and drink, another kind gesture, very much appreciated by the group. I called her up to thank her for her big heart, we spoke briefly, she was genuinely concerned with their wellbeing, and said this was the least she could do. I’m always touched when encountering this kind of unexpected kindness, this time was no exception.

Also the mayor of Agathonisi, Evaggelos Kottoros, came down to the port to say hello to his new guests on the island, he spoke to several members of the group and seemed genuinely interested in their wellbeing. Perhaps not very surprising that the mayor would look into this case, it’s “his” island, but that he took interest and showed up, tells me that he’s perhaps not in line with the Greek government’s policy on refugee issues, I’m at least hoping he’s not.

Eventually the ferry arrived, all members of the group had received a ticket, it seemed that it finally occurred to them, that they would be taken to safety on Samos, and that they would arrive on Samos on a ferry, as normal people, and not on a rubber boat.

The group entered the ferry after saying goodbye to their short but good acquaintances on Agathonisi, we followed the group, as agreed, on WhatsApp live location. We knew that the ferry would go to Samos, but I was asked to monitor them, and it was the least I could do, if that made them feel more at ease.

One hour later the ferry arrived in the port of Pythagoreio, on the south shores of Samos. The group was escorted to a minibus that would take them to the closed refugee camp on the island.

The last words from the group, “ Now the police on Samos will take us in the minibus, they told us that they will take all our phones, they say we must turn them off and give it to them”, the man seemed confused, he didn’t understand why the police would take their phones.

It’s perhaps news for most of you, but after people arrive, as refugees, the authorities collect all their phones. This is done because they want to go through each and every phone, look at all contents to see if there is anything on the phones that could be incriminating, evidence of contact with Smugler’s etc. All contents, pictures, videos, phone numbers, conversations on messaging applications and call logs are copied, and later carefully examined. This is done in all cases, and not only those who they suspect of criminal activities, even the phones of minors are taken in to be copied. If this is in line with European law, I’m not to sure of, but it’s nevertheless done and has been a regular practice for years. How they treat all this personal sensitive information, we can’t say, this is for the Greek authorities to clarify.

This was a small but important victory, this shows that public pressure can change the outcome of a case, perhaps not always, but sometimes. We can, if given good information from arrivals, publish their case to try to give them some protection, to at least give them a fighting chance.

I would personally like to say thank you to the people that assisted on Agathonisi, it’s like I said, unusual these days to find such kindness played out in the open towards refugees, this is usually done in secret and behind closed doors, in fear of reprisals from Greek authorities and right wing elements in Greece. I clearly remember from the past the big Greek heart, nowadays it seems to be lost, hopefully it will be found again.

For once i could write and publish something that was not all tragic, to show that there is hope for change and a better future, even for refugees in Greece, if this case is a sign of that, I’m not to convinced. This was one case out of thousands, that for once ended better than expected. I’m grateful for all involvement from people who genuinely cares about the wellbeing of our fellow human beings, without you this might have ended differently.

Thank You!