It was end of February when Erdogan opened the borders. In an attempt to demonstrate his power in a crude political game he pushed thousands of refugees towards the border. It seemed as if everybody was holding their breath in expectance of many boats to reach the Greek islands. A few arrived and then: Nothing! The number of landings dropped to a historic low with a never-to-be-heard-of stretch of 35 days without a single boat reaching Lesvos. This is not because there are less people that see themselves forced to flee their home countries, it is because the Aegean Sea has become a closed militarized zone where brutal tactics are systematically used without any regard for international law, human rights or the lifes of refugees.
For example has the number of pushbacks risen dramatically on the Greek side of the Aegean Sea. The illegal and often violent practise of stopping refugees after they have already crossed the border and either returning them to Turkish land or leaving them drifting in Turkish waters is a clear violation of international law and the Geneva Convention. Yes, there were regular push- and pullbacks taking place before that and every case is a personal tragedy and a crime in itself. But now it's not just the quantity but also the ‚quality‘ that has increased. It has become a common practise that the Coast Guard and Frontex steal or destroy the engine of migrant boats leaving them helplessly drifting, deliberately risking their deaths. Lately there have also been at leat seven documented reports of migrants being put into life rafts and dragged onto the sea to abandon them to their own fate. The newest development is even going a step further and is basically a form of kidnapping. In at least two cases boats landed on a Greek island and the people went on land. After the Coast Guard was informed (a normal procedure) and arrived, all the people went missing: No where to be found, no where to be registered. Just to later reappear on sea or a rocky island in Turkish waters.
The recent Border Violence Monitoring Network report shows that this is a systematic behaviour also on land. In the course of 6 weeks at least 194 refugees living in camps on the mainland were brutally taken by police and illegally brought to Turkey. People disappearing is usually a characteristic trait of a totalitarian regime not that of a democratic country in the year 2020! But this is what is happening. Sure the Greek minister for Asylum Mitarakis stated in a German article that only everything legally possible is being done to prevent asylum seekers to cross into Greek waters but the evidence that orders for pushbacks are given is undeniable. In the beginning of March a Danish Frontex unit openly refused to carry out a pushback because they felt it would risk the lifes of the refugees in the boat (migrants have been killed before in Frontex led pushbacks). They also stated that not just Frontex but also the Hellenic Coast Guard have the order to perform illegal pushbacks. The shocking news revealed an inhuman brutal system with the goal to shield the borders of Fortress Europe. This is a Militia-style behaviour, not that of a EU operation - an EU that received the Nobel Peace Price and openly prides itself on its high moral values.
The worst thing might be that these are just the reports that reach us. Since the Mare Liberum hasn‘t been allowed to go out on sea to monitor the situation and report human rights violations, there is no civil actor present in the Aegean Sea. It has become a unlegislated area where human beings are brutally mistreated. And this is just what is happening in the Aegean Sea. We haven‘t even started talking about the situation on the Turkish-Greek land border, the Balkan and don‘t get us started on the catastrophe happening in the Central Mediterranean…
It is up to the public to protest and to make clear that these despicable, deadly operations are in no way acceptable! Rise up! Get Angry! Get Involved! There is a lot at stake if we just simply accept these crimes at the borders of Europe.