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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
A boat carrying 43people, 16 of them small children, was traveling from Ayvalik, Turkey toward Tsonia, Lesvos north at first light this morning, when they were stopped by a vessel from the Greek coast guard and pushed back to Turkish waters.
The boat was dangerously overloaded, and should not have been at sea at all, from pictures and videos from the boat this is obvious, people are packed together in this small boat as sardines. The smuglers don’t care as long as they get paid, that human lives are at risk seems to be of no concern for them.
The boat crossed into Greek waters, shortly after a vessel from the Greek coast guard arrived. The vessel and its crew is well known for taking part in pushback operations, the ΛΣ-602, a Lambro 57 MK.ll coastal patrol vessel belonging to the Hellenic coast guard, stationed on Lesvos, has been involved in numerous documented cases.
People was threatened at gunpoint, while the petrol tank was removed from their boat, shortly after the HCG vessel moved away and left them helplessly drifting in the Aegean Sea. The crew from the coast guard vessel must have seen the state of the rubber boat, and that it was dangerously overloaded, but nevertheless they left them in the middle of the sea. Greek authorities continue to say that Turkish authorities must stop these dangerous boats from starting from Turkey, but to leave them drifting in the middle of the sea is seemingly ok, strange contradiction.
When the coast guard vessel moved away people onboard dared to take up their phones and made some videos, while they were being threatened at gunpoint the message from the crew was clear, if the observed any phones they would be beaten and their phones taken away from them.
People from the rubber boat said the officers on the coast guard vessel beat them with long sticks, there was shouting and screaming, everyone was so scared, “we didn’t dear to do anything, we just obeyed their orders, afterwards they left us to drown”.
From a distance a larger vessel from the Greek coast guard was watching, nothing was done to intervene, everything was done according to their orders from Greek authorities.
People onboard started calling for help, and after one hour a vessel from the Turkish coast guard arrived and picked them up. The group was taken back to Turkey, the country they were fleeing from, facing an uncertain future and possibly deportation back to their home country, in this case Afghanistan.
This is how border management looks like in the Aegean Sea, Greek authorities violently return people wanting to apply for asylum, there is no due process, international laws and obligations seems to be of no importance. This case will be listed as a “voluntary” return by Greek authorities, that they returned to Turkey by themselves because Greek border guards told them to do so, without any use of force of course, a prevention of entry.
What we see in the videos is of course not as they say it is, but who cares, as long as people have been prevented from entering Europe, by any means possible, it’s all well and good, no questions asked by EU as long as the job gets done.
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?
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.