The Horror of Daily Pushbacks

9292. This is the number of refugees who have been illegally pushed back to Turkey when they tried to cross the Aegean Sea. It is even more shocking to learn that this large number only accounts for those who have been pushed back since the start of the pandemic, between March of 2020 and now.

Refugees commonly flee from Turkey in rubber dinghies, and recently another one washed up on the south coast of Lesvos. The inflatable boat was cut open in several places – a common practice for sinking these boats. All that was left in the boat were 5 rubber floaties, likely used instead of life jackets, and some personal belongings, such as soaked identification papers and a pink baby shoe fit for a child under 12 months old. Sometimes it is possible to link these destroyed boats with the State authorities that are organising and executing pushbacks to Turkey, but most of the time it is not. One can only hope that these people did not drown. We have spoken to families who have been searching for weeks and months for their missing relatives who tried to cross the Aegean Sea. It is all too common that the authorities share little to no information about their relatives.

Mare Liberum has collected information about 301 pushback cases involving 9292 people, but the actual number is most likely much higher. Gathering information is difficult in an extremely militarised border area, where there is currently no civilian presence and facts are politically exploited.


Pushback by masked men

"All of them were wearing black masks, grey shirts and camouflage pants. Two of them carried long sticks. They were used to keep everyone in check by beating them, rendering them unable to prevent a third man with a knife from cutting a hole into their dinghy and the fuel hose."

Pushbacks on small islands

"We were 25 in the boat. We arrived on Samos at 4 a.m. We stayed on Samos for 4 hours. The Greeks on Samos, they came to search for us. The police brought us back to the beach and threw us into their boat. Then they brought us to a small island. Also, they called the Turks to come and search for us. They threw our bags in the water and everything."

Pushbacks from land

"They arrived on land [Samos] and were put in a bus, but they were not brought to a camp. Instead, they were brought to the shoreline again, put in a tiny, tiny dinghy, like a children's toy, and then they [the Hellenic Coast Guard] brought them to sea and left them there."

Pushback through sabotage

"One of the shoot bullets in the air and everything and then hit our boat. He was banging and banging and banging, and he asked the skipper to stop the engine. [...] Then one of them got into our boat, he stopped the engine, he took off the engine and then he threw it into the water."

Pushback by waves

"[We] 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."

The Greek Coast Guard uses extreme brutality against the people on the boats; they even confiscate their telephones so that no information about the abuse is leaked to the outside world, further perpetuating impunity. There are cases where refugees who have given public statements or interviews about crimes committed by the Greek Coast Guard have been arrested or threatened for speaking out.

The Aegean Sea has become a scene of daily human rights violations and also a black box for information. Nevertheless, there are instances where activists and civil society have managed to document pushbacks with videos, witness statements, and forensic evidence. The European Union, including Germany, bears responsibility for this. It is long overdue to end the systematic sealing of Europe's external borders, and the consequential human rights abuses that occur as a result!

© Photos: Maria Klenner / Mare Liberum

Mare Liberum

Human rights violations happen every day in the Aegean. Since 2018, Mare Liberum e. V. is monitoring the human rights situation on Lesvos and in the Aegean Sea. The aim is to observe, document, and draw public attention to the dangerous situation at the European border between Turkey and Greece and to strengthen solidarity and fundamental human rights. We need your help to raise awareness, ignite collective action, and ultimately raise standards for how human rights are respected and protected in Europe.

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