Last year, we recorded 321 pushback cases in the Aegean Sea (read more in our annual report). This illegal and degrading practice of abandoning refugees at sea has become standard practice by Greek and European authorities in 2020. Thus, while not surprising, it is alarming that this has not changed in the first two months of 2021. The increased media attention, countless reports and investigations against Frontex do not seem to bother at least the Hellenic Coast Guard.
In January 2021, we counted 10 pushbacks in which 170 people were illegally abandoned at sea. In February, the number of pushbacks doubled and the number of people involved even tripled. There were 20 cases in which 524 people were abandoned at sea. In comparison, according to Greek authorities, a total of 456 refugees reached the Aegean islands of Lesvos, Kos and Chios in the first months of the year. About half of the pushbacks involved the use of life rafts, which were used to push refugees back at sea and finally abandon them in Turkish waters. All 694 people pushed back were actively put in life threatening danger, denied their fundamental right to asylum and entry to Europe by this traumatizing physical and psychological violence. Especially 2 pushback cases of the last weeks stand out for their inconceivable cruelty:
On January 27, 4 people from Palestine and Somalia were pushed back from Chios. They were already in the Viale camp, but were not registered, instead they were first taken by the police to a building, presumably for quarantine purposes, and then brought onto a boat by masked men. Using a lot of violence on the boat, the refugees were taken close to a small island (Fener Adasi, Turkey) where they were thrown into the water wearing only life jackets. They reached the island, which is more like a rock in the sea, and waited there for 3 days without food or water until the Turkish Coast Guard found them. One of the refugees tried to get help with a self-made raft and was discovered by a Greek ferry. A detailed report on the case has been published by the Border Violence Monitoring Network.
On February 17, 13 refugees, including 5 children, arrived in northern Lesvos and went to the nearby Megala Therma quarantine camp. The police took them to a container near the coast. From there, masked men, using massive force, took the group to a port and then onto a boat. They were then taken to Turkish waters and abandoned in a life raft. The Turkish Coast Guard found the life raft the next morning. A detailed report on this case has been published by Aegean Boat Report.
In addition to the structural violence inherent in the isolationist policies of the European border regime, refugees face tremendous physical and psychological violence during brutal pushbacks, as is the case at almost all external borders. Human rights violations and border violence shape Europe's migration policy. We demand that not only Greece, but all of Europe to take responsibility, investigate human rights crimes and create a safe and legal passage for people on the move.