Une idée importée d’#Australie :
Greece: Investigate Pushbacks, Collective Expulsions
Greek law enforcement officers have summarily returned asylum seekers and migrants at the land and sea borders with Turkey during the Covid-19 lockdown, Human Rights Watch said today. The officers in some cases used violence against asylum seekers, including some who were deep inside Greek territory, and often confiscated and destroyed the migrants’ belongings.
In reviewing nine cases, Human Rights Watch found no evidence that the authorities took any precautions to prevent the risk of transmission of Covid-19 to or among the migrants while in their custody. These findings add to growing evidence of abuses collected by nongovernmental groups and media, involving hundreds of people intercepted and pushed back from Greece to Turkey by Greek law enforcement officers or unidentified masked men over the last couple of months. Pushbacks violate several human rights norms, including against collective expulsion under the European Convention on Human Rights.
“Greek authorities did not allow a nationwide lockdown to get in the way of a new wave of collective expulsions, including from deep inside Greek territory, ” said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of protecting the most vulnerable people in this time of global crisis, Greek authorities have targeted them in total breach of the right to seek asylum and in disregard for their health.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed 13 victims and witnesses who described incidents in which the Greek police, the Greek Coast Guard, and unidentified men in black or commando-like uniforms, who appeared to be working in close coordination with uniformed authorities, violently pushed migrants back to Turkey in March and April 2020.
Six of those interviewed said Greek police officers rounded up people in the Diavata camp for asylum seekers in Thessaloniki, 400 kilometers from the land border with Turkey. This is the first time Human Rights Watch has documented collective expulsions of asylum seekers from deep inside Greece, through the Evros river.
Six asylum seekers, from Syria, Palestine, and Iran, including a 15-year-old unaccompanied girl from Syria, described three incidents in March and April in which Greek Coast Guard personnel, Greek police, and armed masked men in dark clothing coordinated and carried out summary returns to Turkey from the Greek islands of Rhodes, Samos, and Symi. All of them said they were picked up on the islands soon after they landed, placed on larger Coast Guard boats, and once they were back at the sea border, were forced onto small inflatable rescue rafts, with no motor, and cast adrift near Turkish territorial waters.
Another asylum seeker described a fourth incident, in which the Greek Coast Guard and unidentified men dressed in dark uniforms wearing balaclavas used dangerous maneuvers to force a boat full of migrants back to Turkey.
On June 10, the International Organization for Migration reported that they had received allegations of migrants being arbitrarily arrested in Greece and pushed back to Turkey and asked Greece to investigate. On June 12, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urged Greece to investigate multiple reports of pushbacks by Greek authorities at the country’s sea and land borders, possibly returning migrants and asylum seekers to Turkey after they had reached Greek territory or territorial waters.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Greek government instituted nationwide restrictions on public movement from March 13 until early May. Migrants and asylum seekers were locked down in some camps, mainly on the Greek islands, where restrictions on freedom of movement continue, and where the closing of government offices has left them in legal limbo.
Human Rights Watch sent letters to the Greek police and the Greek Coast Guard on June 29, presenting authorities with a summary of findings but received no response. The Greek Coast Guard indicated they would reply but at the time of publication, we had received no communication.
Greek judicial authorities should conduct a transparent, thorough, and impartial investigation into allegations that Greek Coast Guard and Greek police personnel are involved in acts that put the lives and safety of migrants and asylum seekers at risk, Human Rights Watch said. Any officer engaged in illegal acts, as well as their commanding officers, should be subject to disciplinary sanctions and, if applicable, criminal prosecution.
The Greek parliament should urgently establish an inquiry into all allegations of collective expulsions, including pushbacks, and violence at the borders, and determine whether they amount to a de facto government policy.
The Greek Ombudsman, an independent national authority, should examine the issue of summary and collective expulsions, and issue a report with recommendations to the Greek authorities, Human Rights Watch said.
The European Commission, which provides financial support to the Greek government for migration control, including in the Evros region and the Aegean Sea, should urge Greece to end all summary returns and collective expulsions of asylum seekers to Turkey, press the authorities to investigate allegations of violence, and ensure that none of its funding contributes to violations of fundamental rights and EU laws. The European Commission should also open legal proceedings against Greece for violating EU laws prohibiting collective expulsions.
On July 6, during a debate at the European Parliament on fundamental rights at the Greek border, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said that incidents should be investigated and indicated that the European Commission may consider a new system to monitor and verify reports of pushbacks amid increased allegations of abuse at the EU’s external borders. The Commission should take concrete measures to set up an independent and transparent investigation in consultation with members of civil society, Human Rights Watch said.
Everyone seeking international protection has a right to apply for asylum and should be given that opportunity.
Returns should follow a procedure that provides access to effective remedies and safeguards against refoulement – return to a country where they are likely to face persecution – and ill-treatment, Human Rights Watch said.
“Greece has an obligation to treat everyone humanely and not to return refugees and asylum seekers to persecution, or anyone to the real risk of inhuman and degrading treatment or worse,” said Cossé. “Putting a stop to these dangerous incidents should be a priority for the Greek government and the European Commission as well.”
For more information and accounts from migrants and asylum seekers, please see below.
Sea Pushbacks to Turkey
Between May 29 and June 6, 2020, Human Rights Watch interviewed six men from Iran, Palestine, and Syria, and one 15-year-old unaccompanied girl from Syria, who were in Turkey and who described three incidents in which they said the Greek Coast Guard, Greek police officers, and unidentified men in black or commando-like uniforms coordinated summary returns from Symi, Samos, and Rhodes in March and April. In the fourth incident, the Greek Coast Guard and unidentified men in uniforms wearing balaclavas used dangerous maneuvers to force the boat full of migrants back to Turkey from the Aegean Sea.
Marwan (a pseudonym), 33, from Syria, said that on March 8, the Greek Coast Guard engaged in life-threatening maneuvers to force the small boat carrying him and 22 other passengers, including women and children, back to Turkey:
“[W]e saw a Greek Coast Guard boat. It was big and had the Greek flag on it…. They started pushing back our boat, by creating waves in the water making it hard for us to continue…. It was like a battle – like living in Syria, we thought we were going to die.”
In the three cases involving summary returns of people who had reached land, Greek law enforcement officers apprehended them within hours after they landed, and summarily expelled them to Turkey. All of those interviewed said that they were forced first onto large Coast Guard boats and then onto small inflatable rescue rafts, with no motor, and cast adrift near the Turkish sea border. In all cases, they said the Greek officers stole people’s belongings, including personal identification, bags, and money.
These findings add to growing evidence of abuses collected by nongovernmental groups, including Alarm Phone and Aegean Boat Report, and the reputable German media outlet Deutsche Welle. Human Rights Watch was able to identify 26 reported incidents published by others, that occurred between March and July, involving at least 855 people. In 2015 Human Rights Watch documented that armed masked men were disabling boats carrying migrants and asylum seekers in the Aegean Sea and pushing them back to Turkish waters.
Karim (a pseudonym), 36, from Syria, said that he arrived by boat to Symi island on March 21, along with approximately 30 other Syrians, including at least 10 children. He said that the Greek police approached the group within hours after they arrived. They explained that they wanted to claim asylum, but the officers detained them at an unofficial port site and summarily returned them to Turkey two days later, he said. They were taken on a military ship to open water, where the asylum seekers – including children and people with disabilities – were violently thrown from the ship’s deck to an inflatable boat:
[T]hey [Greek police] put us in a military boat and pushed us [from the deck] to a small [inflatable] boat that doesn’t have an engine. They left us on this boat and took all our private stuff, our money, our IDs. We were on the boat and we were dizzy. We were vomiting. They [the Greek Coast Guard] didn’t tell us anything…. [W]e were in the middle of the sea. We called the Turkish Coast Guard. They came and took our boat.
Karim and his extended family were detained in the Malatya Removal Center in the Eastern Anatolia region of Turkey, and in three other detention centers in Turkey, for seven weeks. They were released on May 7.
In another incident at the end of March, 17 men and women and an unaccompanied girl from Iran, Palestine, and Syria were intercepted on a highway on the island of Rhodes, an hour after landing and forced back to the shore. They were detained in a tent for two days, without food and water, and then forced onto what they believe was a Greek Coast Guard boat on the third day, then dumped at sea in a small motor-less rescue raft. Human Rights Watch gathered four separate witness statements about the same incident, in which interviewees gave similar accounts. The Turkish Coast Guard rescued them.
Leila L. (a pseudonym), 15, a Syrian girl traveling alone, said:
On the third day, it was night, we don’t know what time, they told us to move … they looked like army commandoes and they had weapons with them. There were six of them, wearing masks … they pointed their weapons at us. We were pushed in a horrible way and they pushed our bags in the sea. Before getting on the first boat, they took everything from us – our phones, our IDs, our bags … everything, apart from the clothes we were wearing. We were very scared. Some people were vomiting. Think what you would feel if you’re in the middle of the sea and you don’t know what would happen to you. We stayed between two to three hours [in the sea]. The boat had no engine. It was a rescue boat. It was like a dinghy. After two to three hours, the Turkish Coast Guard drove us to shore.
In another incident, Hassan (a pseudonym), 29, a Palestinian refugee from Gaza, said that the police apprehended him and his group of approximately 25 people about three hours after they arrived on the island of Samos, during the third week of March. He said the police took them to the shore, where another group of police and Greek Coast Guard officers were waiting:
The Greek Coast Guard put us in a big boat…. We drove for three hours but then they put us in a small boat. It was like a raft. It was inflatable and had no motor. Like a rescue boat they keep on big boats in case there is an emergency. They left us in the sea alone. There was no food or water. They left us for two nights. We had children with us….
Hassan said that a Greek Coast Guard boat came back on the third day, threw them a rope, and “drove around for two hours in the sea,” leaving them closer to Turkish waters. The Turkish Coast Guard rescued them.
Video footage analyzed by Human Rights Watch from an incident that allegedly took place in the sea between Lesbos and Turkey on May 25, shows what appears to be women, men, and children drifting in an orange, tent-like inflatable life raft while three other rafts can be seen in the background. The rafts appear to be manufactured by the Greek company Lalizas, which according to publicly available information is a brand that the Greek Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Insular Policy purchases. The person speaking in the video alleges they were placed on those rafts by the Greek Coast Guard to force them back to Turkey.
Human Rights Watch contacted the Lalizas company through email with questions on the use of the life rafts by the Greek Coast Guard, but received no response.
In its June 10 statement, the International Organization for Migration notes that “footage showing the use of marine rescue equipment to expel migrants across the Eastern Aegean Sea are [sic] especially disturbing.”
Collective Expulsions Across Land Border
In May, Human Rights Watch interviewed six men from Afghanistan who described five separate incidents in which they were summarily returned from Greece to Turkey in March and April. They gave detailed accounts of the Greek police apprehending them in the Diavata camp, a reception facility in Thessaloniki.
They said the police took them to what they thought were police stations that they could not always identify or to an unofficial detention site that they said was like a small jail, close to the Greek-Turkish border, robbed them of their personal belongings including their ID, phone, and clothes, and beat them with wooden or metal rods – then summarily expelled them to Turkey.https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/styles/embed_medium/public/media_2020/07/greece0720_map-01.jpg?itok=GjugsxwW#.jpg
In one case, a 19-year-old man from Kapisa, in Afghanistan, gave Human Rights Watch a photo of injuries – red strip-like marks across his back – he said were caused by beatings by people he believed were police officers.
Reporting by Human Rights Watch and other groups suggests that collective expulsions of people with documents allowing them to be in Greece, from deep inside the mainland, appear to be a new tactic by Greek law enforcement.
Five of the men had obtained a document from police authorities in Thessaloniki granting the right to remain in Greece for up to 30 days. While the document is formally a deportation order, the person should have the chance to apply for asylum during the 30-day period if they wish to and the document may, under certain circumstances, be renewed.
The men said they had either not understood their rights or had been unable to apply for asylum, or to renew this document, due to Covid-19 related shutdown of government institutions. They said that before they were returned to Turkey, in the weeks following the nationwide lockdown due to Covid-19, they saw Greek police forces visiting the Diavata camp almost daily to identify and return to Turkey residents whose documents had expired.
Greece suspended the right to lodge asylum applications for those who arrived irregularly between March 1 and 31, following tensions on the Greek-Turkish land borders at the end of February due to a significant and rapid increase in people trying to cross the border. The Emergency Legislative order said that these people were to be returned to their country of origin or transit “without registration.”
Making the situation worse, the Asylum Service suspended services to the public between March 13 and May 15 to protect against the spread of the Covid-19 virus. During this period, applications for international protection were not registered, interviews were not conducted, and appeals were not registered. The Asylum Service resumed full operations on May 18 but the Greek Council of Refugees, a non-governmental group providing legal assistance to asylum seekers, said that no new asylum applications had been lodged by the end of May with the exception of people under administrative detention.
Greek law requires authorities to provide for the reception of third-country nationals who are arrested due to unlawful entry or who stay in Greece under conditions that guarantee human rights and dignity in accordance with international standards. During the reception and identification procedure, authorities should provide socio-psychological support and information on the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, including the right to apply for asylum, and refer vulnerable people such as unaccompanied children and victims of torture to social services.https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/styles/embed_medium/public/media_2020/07/202007eca_greece_refugee.jpg?itok=9hbXQVAj#.jpg
Mostafa (a pseudonym), 19, from Afghanistan, said that in mid-April, Greek police rounded him up from Diavata camp, took him to a police station near the camp, and then transferred him to another small detention site near the border, where he was detained for a night, then forced onto a boat and expelled to Turkey:
When they [the police] came to check my papers [at Diavata camp] I told them I couldn’t renew them because the office was closed but they didn’t listen to me…. They didn’t allow us any time. They just took us to the bus and said: “We will take you to renew the papers.” They were beating us the whole time…. [T]hey took us to the police station near the camp, there were more people, 10 people altogether…. [T]hey kept us in the rain for a few hours and then they transferred us to the border. There were two children with us – around 15 or 16 years old….When they took us to the police station, they took my coat, I was just with pants and a t-shirt and then at the border, they took these too. They took everything, my money, ID, phone.
Mostafa gave the following description of the detention site near the border and the secret expulsion that followed:
It was like a small police station. There were toilets. There were other migrants there. It was around four and a half hours away from the border. They carried us in a bus like a prison. We stayed in this small jail for one night, no food was given. It was at 10 or 11 o’clock at night when they took us to the border. I crossed with the boat. There were 18 people in one boat. It took six or seven minutes – then we arrived on the Turkish side. [T]he police were standing at the border [on the Greek side] and looking at us.
Two men giving accounts about two separate incidents, said that the police took them to an unofficial detention site near the border. They described the detention locations as “small jails” and said they were detained there for a day or two.
Four out of the six asylum seekers said that Greek security forces had abused them, throughout their summary deportation, beating them with heavy metal, plastic, or wooden sticks.
Mohamed (a pseudonym), 24, from Afghanistan, said:
They had a stick that all the police have with them…. The stick was made of plastic, but it was very heavy. They had black uniforms. I couldn’t see all of the uniform – I couldn’t see their faces – if I looked up they would beat us. They beat one migrant for five minutes…. There were eight of them – they asked us if we came from Thessaloniki and we said yes and then they started beating us.
All of those interviewed said the Greek security forces stripped them of their clothes, leaving them in either just their underwear or just a basic layer, and took their possessions, including personal identification documents, money, telephones, and bags before pushing them back to Turkey.
In a report published in March, Human Rights Watch documented that Greek security forces and unidentified armed men at the Greece-Turkey land border detained, assaulted, sexually assaulted, robbed, and stripped asylum seekers and migrants, then forced them back to Turkey. At the end of June, Greece’s Supreme Court Prosecutor opened a criminal investigation initiated by the Greek Helsinki Monitor, a nongovernmental group, into the pushbacks and violence documented by Human Rights Watch and others, as well as into the shooting and deaths of two people in Evros in March.
Human Rights Watch documented similar situations in 2008 and 2018. In March 2019, the Public Prosecutor of Orestiada in Evros, initiated an investigation regarding the repeated allegations of systematic violence against migrants and asylum seekers at the Evros river, based on the Human Rights Watch 2018 report, and a report by three nongovernmental groups, including the Greek Council for Refugees.
Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN), a nongovernmental group, has built an extensive database of testimony of people being pushed back from Greece to Turkey over the Evros river. Between March 31 and April 28, BVMN has reported at least 7 incidents involving more than 306 people. Among these cases, at least six people had legal documents regularizing their stay in Greece when they were summarily expelled.
Press Release: New Legal Centre Lesvos report details collective expulsions in the Aegean Sea
Greek authorities are unlawfully expelling migrants who have arrived in Greece, and abandoning them at sea on motorless, inflatable vessels. In a report released today by Legal Centre Lesvos, testimonies from 30 survivors detail the systematic, unlawful and inherently violent nature of these collective expulsions.
Since the Greek authorities’ one month suspension of the right to seek asylum on 1 March 2020, the Greek government has adopted various unlawful practices that are openly geared towards the deterrence and violent disruption of migrant crossings, with little regard for its obligations deriving from international law and specifically from the non refoulement principle – and even less for the lives of those seeking sanctuary.
While collective expulsions from Greece to Turkey are not new, in recent months Greek authorities have been using rescue equipment – namely inflatable, motorless life rafts – in a new type of dystopic expulsion. Migrants are violently transferred from Greek islands, or from the dinghy upon which they are travelling, to such rafts, which are then left adrift in open water.
In addition to the well-documented practice of non-assistance to migrant dinghies, the Greek authorities have damaged the motor or gasoline tank of migrant dinghies before returning the vessel – and the people on board – to open waters, where they are subsequently abandoned.
These collective expulsions, happening in the Aegean region, are not isolated events. Direct testimonies from survivors, collected by the Legal Centre Lesvos, demonstrate that they are part of a widespread and systematic practice, with a clear modus operandi implemented across various locations in the Aegean Sea and on the Eastern Aegean islands.
The information shared with the Legal Centre Lesvos is from 30 survivors, and testimonies from 7 individuals who were in direct contact with survivors, or were witness to, a collective expulsion. These testimonies, related to eight separate collective expulsions, were collected between March and June 2020, directly by the Legal Centre Lesvos.
Collective expulsions are putting peoples’ lives at risk, are contrary to Greece’ international legal obligations and violate survivors’ fundamental and human rights, including their right to life and the jus cogens prohibitions on torture and refoulement. When carried out as part of a widespread and systematic practice, as documented in our report, these amount to a crime against humanity.
Collective expulsions should undoubtedly be condemned, in the strongest possible terms; however, this is not sufficient: it is only through the immediate cessation of such illegal practices that the protection of human rights and access to asylum will be restored at the European Union’s external borders.
Lorraine Leete, attorney and one of the Legal Centre Lesvos’ coordinators, said that:
“The Greek authorities are abandoning people in open water, on inflatable and motorless life rafts – that are designed for rescue – with no regard for their basic safety, let alone their right to apply for asylum. Such audacious acts show the violence at the core of the European border regime, and the disregard that it has for human life.
Greek authorities have denied reports of collective expulsions as “fake news”, despite a plethora of undeniable evidence, from survivors and various media outlets. This is untenable: evidence shared with the Legal Centre has shown that collective expulsions are happening in the Aegean sea, with a systematic and widespread modus operandi that amounts to crimes against humanity. They are being carried out in the open, in plain view – if not with the participation – of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex. European Authorities are complicit in these crimes as they have thus far failed to act to prevent further pushbacks, or hold Greek authorities accountable.”
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BVMN Visual Investigation: Analysis of Video Footage Showing Involvement of Hellenic Coast Guard in Maritime Pushback
The following piece is a product of a joint-investigation by Josoor and No Name Kitchen on behalf of the Border Violence Monitoring Network.
Since the spring, consistent and well-documented reports have shown masked men aggressively pursuing boats full of refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers in the Aegean Sea, before either destroying or off-loading the boats and initiating illegal return operations to Turkey.
One investigation which Josoor contributed to, analyzed a set of materials documenting masked men operating from an inflatable boat off the island of Lesvos in early June. Testimonies recorded on the BVMN database [June 5th; June 3rd] as well as other media reports describe a series of incidents where Hellenic Coast Guard [HCG] vessels approach boats carrying men, women and children in the Aegean between Turkey and Greece and variably drove them back, intimidated them, or destroyed and removed their engines. Several of these operations have been marked by direct physical violence at the hands of the HCG. A more recent report from the New York Times referenced at least 1,072 asylum seekers being abandoned at sea by Greek officials in at least 31 separate expulsions since March.
The consistency of these reports underscore a broader pattern of maritime pushbacks which, in many ways, mirrors the similarly illegal procedures which have become commonplace throughout Greece and along the Balkan Route.
Despite numerous witness testimonies of this behavior, direct evidence linking specific Hellenic Coast Guard Vessels to these illegal practices remain sparse. New video evidence obtained by the association Josoor [a BVMN-member based in Turkey] from an incident on July 11th, may provide a crucial new perspective in the analysis of this behavior.
In this investigation, we will focus on a series of four videos [Link to videos 1, 2, 3, & 4] filmed on July 11th and obtained on the same day, showing masked men on a medium-sized vessel approaching a dingy filled with women and children. The man who filmed this video sent the materials over to Josoor while still on the dinghy, after this he reported being returned to Turkey and held in detention for a period of two weeks. The purpose of this analysis is to better identify the individuals and the vessel involved in the operation which resulted in the pushback of the group.
Given the initial lack of a witness testimony for this event [which was unable to be obtained for several weeks due to the respondent’s detention in Turkey], we had limited material to work with. In order to address these shortcomings, we utilized various open-source techniques such as geolocating the video using topographic satellite renders, stitching together the scene with compiled images, and conducting research on the origins of the vessel carrying the masked men.
Geolocating of the 11 July Incident
An important part of this investigation was the geolocation of the incident in order to better understand the dynamics at play, and verify the pushback element.
A useful hint in geolocating these videos was the distinct mountain lines featured in the background in two of the clips. In order to do this, we first isolated the ridge-lines shown in the backgrounds of these two clips by using a photo-stitching technique to produce a panorama of the scene.https://www.borderviolence.eu/wp-content/uploads/Video2-600x547.png https://www.borderviolence.eu/wp-content/uploads/Video1-600x452.png
Using Google Earth’s topographic satellite renders of the Aegean Sea around the coastlines of Lesvos, we were then able to geolocate these two clips. In the background of the alleged pushback operation is the shore of Lesvos; Mytilini can be seen in the center right as the populated area in the background of the videos. This indicates that the dinghy was being chased east towards Diliki, Turkey as it was intercepted by the HCG vessel.
This geolocated area matches with information posted from Turkish Coast Guard of a rescue operation on July 11th at 10:00 am off the coast of Dikili, Turkey. This was their only reported rescue of that day.
Identification Of HCG Vessel Involved in the July 11th Incident
The vessel in question’s colour is light grey and features a white and blue striped symbol towards the bow on the starboard side: the symbol of the Hellenic Coast Guard.
Slightly farther towards the bow of the boat on its starboard side, the lettering marking the vehicle’s identification within the HCG can also be seen: ΛΣ-618https://www.borderviolence.eu/wp-content/uploads/AE-526x600.jpg https://www.borderviolence.eu/wp-content/uploads/hcglogo2-331x600.jpg https://www.borderviolence.eu/wp-content/uploads/HCGLogo-1-327x600.jpg
The boat in question is one of two Faiakas-class fast patrol crafts (FPCs) currently operated by the Hellenic Coast Guard (HCG) – this one being the ΛΣ-618 and the other being ΛΣ-617. Under a contract awarded by the HCG in April 2014, the Montmontaza-Greben shipyard, located on the island of Korcula, Croatia, was awarded a 13.3 million euro ($15.5 million) contract to supply six of these vessels which are listed as POB-24G.
The POB-24 vessels are 24.6 meters long, and are equipped with two diesel engines that enable a maximum speed of 30 knots and a range of 400 miles. The vessels are staffed by a crew of seven but can be augmented by up to 25 additional personnel if needed.
Importantly, the acquisition of these vessels by the HCG was majority financed via the European Commission’s External Borders Fund which provided for 75% of the cost, with the rest consisting of domestic funding. The first of POB-24G vessels, ΛΣ-617, was delivered in February 2015 whereas ΛΣ-618 was launched into service several months later in August 2015. These boats have enhanced the operational capacity of the HCG by relieving pressure from its aging Dilos-Class patrol vessels.
Identification of the officers present in the 11 July Incident
While the men seen approaching the dinghy on board the ΛΣ-618 took steps to conceal their identities, context clues within the videos allowed us to draw a better picture of who exactly they were and what their behavior was.
Six men can be counted standing on board the ΛΣ-618. The men wear dark colored clothing with short-sleeved shirts marked with a logo on their upper right torsos and have either dark colored shorts or long trousers on. All six have their faces covered with either black balaclava masks or neck gaiters – an important point to keep in mind when considering that in June, the Hellenic Coast Guard’s spokesperson stated that “under no circumstances do the officers of the Coast Guard wear full face masks during the performance of their duties”.
The men in the image above are wearing clothes which share similarities with the uniforms worn by the Hellenic Coast Guard, as the picture below shows.https://www.borderviolence.eu/wp-content/uploads/MenHCG-600x592.jpg https://www.borderviolence.eu/wp-content/uploads/HCRAE-118-600x400.jpg https://www.borderviolence.eu/wp-content/uploads/limani2-600x400.jpg
The man closest to the bow of the boat holds a weapon which appears to be an FN FAL assault rifle whereas the man second from the stern looks at the group with either a camera or a pair of binoculars. FN-FAL rifles have been carried by Greek government forces since the 1970s, thus falling in line with the scene we are shown in the videos.
Treatment of the refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers on board the dingyhttps://www.borderviolence.eu/wp-content/uploads/fal-1-600x340.png https://www.borderviolence.eu/wp-content/uploads/zoomhcg-325x600.jpg
Our investigation of the events documented in this video, and what happened next to the refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers on board the dingy, prioritized a fact-finding search within the clips themselves. On the day of the incident, a Syrian man on board the dinghy sent four videos to Josoor. He claimed to have sent them from the dinghy as they were being approached by the vessels initially and then later after they were cast afloat into Turkish waters.
In one of the videos, at least 32 people on board the now motorless dingy can be seen floating in largely calm waters. The video shows a largely mixed passenger demographic with the men, women, and children on the boat having a varied representation of skin colors. Turkish Coast Guard records from their single intervention of the coast of Dikili on July 11th reports a group of 40 refugees assisted of which 21 were Syrian, 8 Congolese, 4 Somali, 3 Central African, 2 Palestinian, 1 Senegalese, and 1 Eritrean. Accounting for the boat passengers not shown within the video, these numbers correspond with the video footage inside the dinghy.
Giving his testimony of the event several weeks later to Josoor, the man who filmed these videos described that upon its initial approach of their dinghy, the AE-618 had a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) deployed next to it which approached them. Allegedly, one of the officers spoke in English to a member of the dinghy group, who expressed their intention to claim asylum. The officer responded negatively to this request and told them that because of COVID-19, they would not be allowed to enter the island and had to return to Turkey. The respondent described that at first, the driver of the dinghy did not follow that order and subsequently the officers destroyed the engine of the dinghy and beat its driver with batons. As other group members tried to protect the driver, they were also beaten with batons.https://www.borderviolence.eu/wp-content/uploads/Motor1-328x600.jpg https://www.borderviolence.eu/wp-content/uploads/Motor2-336x600.jpg
The officers subsequently dragged them to Turkish waters and then left the group floating there with the broken engine. After spending several more hours in the water, the Turkish Coast Guard arrived at the scene to rescue the passengers aboard the dingy. They took them to a quarantine detention center, from where they were released after 15 days.
With closer analysis, the video footage is able to corroborate this account. In the final video sent by the Syrian dinghy passenger, the dinghy is shown to be floating quietly in the ocean. There is no indication of the ΛΣ-618 being present at this point and the group inside the dinghy appears uncertain. At one point in the video, the cameraman pans towards the stern of the boat and briefly shows its motor. When comparing a still of the motor in the final video to a still from the dinghy’s motor during its initial flight from the ΛΣ-618, it becomes clear that it was tampered with in the intervening time. Given the many substantiated reports of boat motor destruction at the hands of the HCG, it is most likely that the balaclava-clad men on the ΛΣ-618 destroyed the dinghy’s motor before setting it adrift towards Turkey
Contextualizing the incident on 11 July
In contextualizing the incident of 11 July in the broader practices of the HCG in the Aegean, it is important to look at the documented history of aggression of the ΛΣ-618. On March 7th, 2020 the boat ΛΣ-618 was involved in an incident with a Turkish Coast Guard boat wherein the Greek boat entered Turkish waters and was chased in close proximity at high speeds by the Turkish boat. More recently, in the early morning hours of August 15th, the boat was documented participating in an incident along with Nato and Frontex vessels [and several helicopters], blocking a boat carrying women and children from entering into Greek waters.
Pushbacks in the Aegean Sea have been reported on a daily basis these past few months. Given the persistence of pushbacks in the area as well as the strong presence of Frontex vessels on the Aegean Sea, the tacit support that the European Union lends to the Hellenic Coastguard in these illegal practices must be considered. The EU-funded acquisition of the ΛΣ-618 represents just a portion of the close to 40 million euros which the EU has afforded the HCG to procure new vessels within the last five years. These boats, as it has been shown in this investigation, are being used to illegally push vulnerable people back to Turkish waters – a gross misuse of power.
This investigation began by analysing a series of four videos showing masked men in a vessel approaching a small dinghy filled with refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers on the Aegean Sea who later claimed to be pushed back to Turkey from Greek waters. Using Earth Studio and photo-stitching techniques, we were first able to geolocate the video to somewhere on the Aegean between Mytilini, Greece and Diliki, Turkey. We were then able to identify the vessel as the Hellenic Coast Guard’s ΛΣ-618 Faiakas-class fast patrol craft by highlighting the clear HCG emblem visible on its side and it’s ship identification number. This allowed us to make a strong conclusion that the masked men on this boat, who wore uniforms identical to those previously worn by the vessel’s crew-members, were acting in an official capacity. Finally, we were also able to contextualize the ΛΣ-618 documented history of aggressive pursuits of boats carrying refugees and asylum seekers in Greek waters and also highlighted the vessel’s EU-linked acquisition from a Croatian boatbuilder.
When put together, this analysis clearly links the materials shown in the videos to the well documented trend of maritime push-backs by the HCG in the last months. To be clear, the findings of this investigation directly contradicts the claims of the Hellenic Coast Guard’s spokesperson who recently stated that “under no circumstances do the officers of the Coast Guard wear full face masks during the performance of their duties”. Going even further, this investigation disproves the statement of Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas who told the New York Times in August that “Greek authorities do not engage in clandestine activities.” This investigation also further confirms the conclusion of previous investigations that the Hellenic Coastguard is engaging in pushbacks, casting strong doubt on Prime Minister Mitsotakis statement from August 19 that “it has not happened.”Pushbacks, whether they be on land or on sea, are illegal procedures, emboldened and made more efficient by EU funding mechanisms.
Small Children Left Drifting In Life Rafts In The Aegean Sea!
In yet another shocking breach of international law, men, women and children have been beaten, robbed and forced onto a life raft by Greek authorities, despite repeated government claims that it does not undertake ‘pushbacks’ of refugees into Turkey. Thirteen men, women and children were forcibly removed from a refugee camp in Lesvos on Wednesday night by uniformed operatives, who claimed the refugees were being taken to be tested for COVID-19. Instead, they were forced into an isobox, repeatedly beaten with batons, stripped of their possessions and forced into the sea on an inflatable life raft.
On Wednesday night (17th February 2021) at around 19.00 EET, a boat carrying 13 people – 5 children, 3 women and 5 men – landed east of Eftalou, in northern Lesvos. They came ashore and walked into the woods to avoid being seen by people, because they were afraid of being found and pushed back to Turkey by the Hellenic coast guard.
At 20.00, they contacted Aegean Boat Report on Whatsapp for help. It was a cold night and the children were freezing so the group needed to find shelter. At 20.10 they sent both their live location and regular location on Whatsapp, which showed they were just 300 meters from the quarantine camp in Megala Therma, Lesvos.
At 20.18 the new arrivals were sent the camp’s location, and directions to it from their position. At first, they were scared of the police, but they decided to listen to the advice they were given, and walked to the camp. Infuriatingly and unforgivably, in light of what happened next, the refugees were proven correct to mistrust the Greek port police to accept and protect their rights as human beings.
At 21.15, the 13 people arrived outside the Megala Therma camp, where they were met by that night’s port police duty officers, were told to wait inside the camp, while one officer made a phone call on his mobile phone. While the officer made this call, camp residents gave the new arrivals blankets and raisins, because the 13 were freezing and no support was provided by the police. At this point, the new arrivals were inside the camp, and the women and children used the toilets. This detail is important, because what happened next means these people were removed by force from a camp managed by the Greek Ministry of Migration, and illegally deported.
When the officer returned, he told the new arrivals they were going to be taken to be tested for COVID-19, which camp residents who overheard found odd, because this is not usually done at night. On Wednesday evening there where 29 residents in the quarantine camp, so there are many witnesses of their arrival and later removal by police. There is no doubt that the 13 people later deported were inside Megala Therma camp.
Aegean Boat Report has obtained a detailed description of the two officers on duty that night, and in coordination with a shift protocol from the port police, it would be fairly easy to determine the identity of these two officers in any official investigation.
Police told the new arrivals to hand over their phones. They had eight phones between them, but at this stage they only handed three to the police. The officers then demanded that they walk west on the dirt track, but the people refused. They didn’t trust the police, because residents in the camp had told them that testing was not performed at night. The police insisted and the 13 people, five of them children, did not feel they could resist officer carrying guns.
They walked for about 15 minutes, and arrived at a small white container. They were told to wait outside the container, and about 30 minutes later an officer arrived with a key and locked them inside. When they had calmed down enough, they wrapped the children in blankets, helped them to sleep, and at 22.36 EET, made a video which they sent, along with their location, to Aegean Boat Report.
Local residents in the area confirm that police have placed a white container/Isobox next to the dirt track in this exact location, and the video sent by the new arrivals from inside the container, combined with the location sent at the same time, confirm that this was where they were locked up.
After about one hour, a black or dark blue van arrived, and four men wearing unmarked dark blue or black, seemingly military, uniforms and balaclavas, and carrying batons entered the container shouting. The refugees, particularly the children, were very frightened, and the uniformed men screamed “Get up! Get up!” and hit people with batons to force them to stand. They immediately frisked them one by one, even the children, and stole their belongings, bags, money and three of the remaining mobile phones. The refugees report that the men paid particular attention to the women, putting their hands in private areas by force, which was especially humiliating, a violation which they were powerless to prevent. The officers next forced the men, women and children one by one into the back of the van like cattle. Those who resisted were again beaten with batons.
The refugees said it felt like they had travelled for hours in the van, but it was difficult to get a real feeling of time in their situation. When they eventually arrived, they were taken out of the van, each struck 2-3 times with batons and ordered to look at the ground. Those who didn’t were beaten again. They had arrived in a port, made of concrete, which had floodlights, a fence, and a flat roofed square building. But as they were beaten every time they tried to look around, it was hard for them to be certain about their surroundings. From their description, travel time from the container, and the travel time in the boat to the point they were abandoned in a life raft, it’s fairly certain that the port is the Schengen port in Petra, north-east Lesvos, which has been used frequently in the last months for illegal deportations by the Hellenic coast guard. (Another Proven Pushback!)
In similar previous cases, people have been taken from the port in large vessels, but this time they were put on a small boat, described by the refugees as a grey rubber speedboat with two engines and a four-man crew. They were placed in the front of the boat, which was piloted by one crew member in its centre. The boat described is almost certainly a Lambro coastal patrol RIB used by the Hellenic coast guard, usually to help people in distress. The five children, three women and five men were forced onto this RIB by four men in the same dark military uniforms and balaclavas as those who had robbed, beaten and forced them into a van. The refugees could not say if they were the same four men who had picked them up and beaten them at the container, but they, too, beat the men, women and children as they forced them into the RIB, ordering them to “look down”.
They were travelling in the boat for less than 30 minutes, including a short stop close to a large grey vessel, after only 10 minutes. One of the officers spoke on the radio with the large vessel in a language the refugees thought was Greek, and was certainly not English. They described the vessel as grey with blue and white stripes on the front – a description which matches the appearance of the Hellenic Coast Guard vessels which patrol the border area.
The boat stopped after approximately 30 minutes, and then an orange tent shaped inflatable life raft was cast over the side. One of the officers went into the raft and put up a small light inside, then the officers pushed the people into the raft one by one. This took only a few minutes, and as soon as all 13 people had been forced into the raft, the boat with the Greek officers left the men, women and children alone, in the dark, helplessly drifting in the sea. Not one of the people – even the children – in the life raft were given life jackets, and sea water had already found its way into the life raft.
At 01.29, they a video was sent to Aegean Boat Report, showing the people inside the life raft. Soon after, alone, cold, tired, powerless, and vulnerable, the refugees began to panic. Using one of the phones they had managed to hide when they were robbed by the uniformed officers, they called the Turkish coast guard.
At 04.10 the Turkish coast guard reported they had found and rescued 13 people from a life raft drifting outside Behram, Turkey.
Aegean Boat Report received a third video the following day, this time from inside a bus, and a location that showed they were heading towards Ayvacik, Turkey.
This video is of the same people in the video from the container on Lesvos, and from the life raft helplessly drifting in the Aegean Sea.
And there is absolutely no doubt who is responsible for their illegal deportation. Despite the fact that the Greek government continues to claim to follow all international laws and regulations.
Last week, the minister of asylum and immigration, Notis Mitarachis, once again denied claims that Greece is pushing refugees back to Turkey, calling the allegations “fake news,” and claiming they are part of a strategy promoted by Turkey. For some reason he has not chosen to explain this strategy. (Greek migration minister calls allegations of migrant pushbacks ‘fake news’)
And yet, even as Mitarachis and his government continues to make these claims, more and more people are illegally set adrift in the Aegean Sea, having been forcibly removed from refugee camps, beaten, stripped of their possessions, and forced onto inflatable rafts by uniformed people operating in Greece.
Uno-Flüchtlingshilfswerk zählt Hunderte mutmaßliche Pushbacks
Das Uno-Flüchtlingshilfswerk (UNHCR) erhöht wegen der Rechtsverletzungen in der Ägäis den Druck auf die griechische Regierung. Seit Beginn des vergangenen Jahres habe man »mehrere Hundert Fälle« von mutmaßlichen Pushbacks registriert, sagte die UNHCR-Repräsentantin in Griechenland, Mireille Girard, dem SPIEGEL.
Das UNHCR habe den Behörden die entsprechenden Hinweise übergeben. In allen Fällen lägen der Organisation eigene Informationen vor, die auf illegale Pushbacks an Land oder auf See hindeuten. »Wir erwarten, dass die griechischen Behörden diese Vorfälle untersuchen«, sagte Girard. »Das Recht auf Asyl wird in Europa angegriffen.«
Pushbacks verstoßen gegen internationales Recht
Der SPIEGEL hat seit Juni 2020 in gemeinsamen Recherchen mit »Report Mainz« und Lighthouse Reports gezeigt, dass die griechische Küstenwache Flüchtlingsboote in der Ägäis stoppt, den Motor der Schlauchboote kaputt macht und die Menschen wieder in türkische Gewässer zieht. Anschließend setzen die griechischen Beamten die Migrantinnen und Migranten auf manövrierunfähigen Schlauchbooten auf dem Meer aus. Manchmal benutzen sie auch aufblasbare orange Rettungsflöße. Am griechisch-türkischen Grenzfluss Evros kommt es zu ähnlichen Aktionen.
Diese sogenannten Pushbacks verstoßen gegen internationales und europäisches Recht – unter anderem, weil den Schutzsuchenden kein Zugang zu einem Asylverfahren gewährt wird. Griechenland bestreitet die Anschuldigungen pauschal, bei den Augenzeugenberichten und geolokalisierten Videos handele es sich um »Fake News«.
Auch die europäische Grenzschutzagentur Frontex ist in die Pushbacks verwickelt, sie führt in der Ägäis gemeinsame Operationen mit der griechischen Küstenwache durch. In mindestens sieben Fällen befanden sich Frontex-Einheiten in der Nähe von Pushbacks, in einigen Fällen übergaben die europäischen Grenzschützer den Griechen die Flüchtlinge sogar, diese übernahmen dann den Pushback. Ein deutscher Bundespolizist im Frontex-Einsatz verweigerte deswegen den Dienst.
Die EU-Antibetrugsbehörde Olaf, das EU-Parlament und die Ombudsfrau der EU untersuchen derzeit die Pushbacks. Eine interne Frontex-Untersuchung konnte nicht alle Vorfälle aufklären.
Die griechischen Behörden schleppen selbst Geflüchtete zurück aufs Meer, die bereits europäischen Boden erreichen konnten. Der SPIEGEL konnte zwei dieser Fälle zweifelsfrei nachweisen. Im April 2020 war eine Gruppe Asylsuchender auf Samos angekommen, im November eine auf Lesbos.
UNHCR dokumentierte Pushback von Lesbos
Das UNHCR hat nun ebenfalls einen solchen Fall aufgezeichnet. Am 17. Februar 2021 seien 13 Asylsuchende auf Lesbos angelandet, sagte Girard. Griechische Inselbewohner hätten das UNHCR alarmiert, die Organisation habe dann den lokalen Behörden Bescheid gegeben.
Die griechische Polizei habe die Geflüchteten in einen Container in einem Quarantänecamp im Norden der Insel geführt. Dann seien vermummte Männer gekommen, hätten die Migrantinnen und Migranten, darunter Frauen und Kinder, zum Hafen gefahren und die Menschen in einem aufblasbaren Rettungsfloß antriebslos auf dem Meer zurückgelassen. Später wurden sie von der türkischen Küstenwache gerettet.
Das UNHCR habe den Fall detailliert rekonstruiert sowie Zeugen und die Überlebenden interviewt. Es bestehe kein Zweifel, dass die Menschen auf Lesbos angekommen und illegal in die Türkei zurückgeführt worden seien, sagt Girard. Solche Aktionen seien illegal. »Der Vorfall muss untersucht werden und Konsequenzen haben.«
Die teilweise gewalttätigen Aktionen führten dazu, dass Geflüchtete sich inzwischen oft vor den Behörden versteckten, so Girard weiter. »Die Asylsuchenden sind ohnehin schon traumatisiert, wenn ihnen nun in Europa wieder Gewalt angetan wird, retraumatisiert sie das«, sagt Girard. »Besonders die Kinder haben damit noch jahrelang zu kämpfen.«
Vomitous and terrifying: the lifeboats used to turn back asylum seekers
The bulbous orange lifeboat wallowing in the shallows off the coast of Central Java is an unlikely looking weapon - but it’s proving highly effective in Australia’s military campaign against asylum seekers.
To the people forced to travel in them, though, it is a vomitous and terrifying experience.
’’Inside the orange boat it was closed, hot and very dark,’’ says Omar Ali, an Egyptian asylum seeker now in temporary detention in an old office building in Cilacap, Central Java.