From May 23 to 25 2020 the Turkish Coast Guard rescued a total of 101 migrants from six life rafts in the Aegean Sea. They were on their way to Greece when the Hellenic Coast Guard stopped them, forced them onto life rafts, towed them back into Turkish waters and left adrift. Incidents of this type have been reported repeatedly over the last months, which shows that they are part of a new pushbacks-strategy by the Hellenic Coast Guard.

Illegal pushbacks in the Aegean Sea have been reported for years, but over the last few months the Hellenic Coast Guard appears to have developed a new strategy. Whereas the Hellenic Coast Guard used to destroy the engines of refugee boats crossing the Aegean Sea and pushed them back into Turkish waters afterwards in the past, they now force refugees to board unsafe liferafts at sea or even after migrants have arrived on the Greek island to then leave them adrift in these unseaworthy rafts.

One of the best documented liferaft-pushbacks happened on April 28 2020. That day 22 people (including three children, four women and 15 men) arrived on the Greek island of Samos. Instead of being brought to one of the refugee camps on the island, they were forced to board the vessels of the Coast Guard and from there again forced onto life-threatening liferafts and left adrift. A Turkish Coast Guard vessel was present as well but only rescued the people in the liferaft the next morning. Even though this incident is well documented, there is no official statement from the Greek authorities.1

Beside the mentioned cases there are at least ten more, similar cases. In total 370 people have been left adrift in 20 life rafts in the Aegean Sea only since March 2020. In three cases there is evidence, that the refugees have already reached one of the Greek islands before being brought back to Turkish waters.2,3 The liferafts used by the Hellenic Coast Guard don’t have a motor and can’t be steered, which leaves the people on board helpless at sea.

When refugees are directly pushed back or deported, they don’t get a chance to file an application for asylum. Greece violates not only the human rights charta, but also the international agreement on non-refoulement and the prohibition of collective deportations. With these illegal actions Greece puts refugees in a perilous and inhumane situation.

Since the European Border Agency Frontex is present in the Aegean Sea as well as the Hellenic and Turkish Coast Guard, we assume that they have knowledge about these illegal pushbacks and ask for an immediate investigation of these crimes!

All pictures in this article: Turkish Coast Guard Command

Further information:

  1. Bellingcat: Samos And The Anatomy Of A Maritime Push-Back

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