Once again has Notis Mitarakis, the Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, publicly insisted that no illegal pushbacks are taking place in Greece. “It’s clear that we are protecting our borders – yes, absolutely we are protecting our borders, but we are protecting our borders in line with what international law and European law expects us to do.”1 

His words sound like a mockery when one looks at the disastrous situation in the Aegean Sea in the past 10 days alone: We know about 12 pushbacks that affected 370 people. But as always the actual numbers are most probably higher – much higher. Here just some examples:

3. November: 25 Geflüchtete kamen auf der unbewohnten Insel Farmakonisi an.  Der Fall wurde durch Alarmphone öffentlich gemacht, doch der Kontakt brach ab, nachdem das griechische Militär ankam.2 

All of them were pushed back!

November 3rd: 55 Kurdish, Iraqis and Afghanis were dropped on the Greek island Karystos. They contacted Greek authorities and UNHCR to seek protection and apply for asylum.3

All of them were pushed back!

November 4th: 30 refugees were in distress at sea near Lesvos. The Hellenic Coast Guard was informed by Aegean Boat Report and Alarmphone but no action was taken. 13 hours later they were picked up by the Turkish Coast Guard.4

All of them were pushed back!

November 7th: a boat likely with 24 people capsized at Cape Praso near Samos. Aegean Boat Report informed the Hellenic Coast Guard and UNHCR but a rescue mission was not launched until the next morning.5 

A 6 year old boy drowned that night. The next day the father of the dead boy was arrested for endangering his child. He could go to prison for 10 years.

November 9th: 60 people in a sailing boat were in distress in Greek waters. The Hellenic Coast Guard was informed. Later Alarmphone published pictures of the boat being towed by a Coast Guard ship to an unknown location. There is no further information about the whereabouts of the people.6

It is expected that all of them were pushed back!

November 9th: 60 people were pushed back to an island in the Evros river at the Greek-Turkish land border. Both countries were informed but refused to take responsibility. The group, including children, a pregnant woman, and injured people, said that they had been without food for 4 days.7

The whereabouts of the group is unknown, they might still be there!

November 10th: 30 people arrived on Lesvos. Afterwards they hid in the woods in fear of a pushback. Aegean Boat Report made the case public and UNHCR was informed. The group was found by the police and forced into life rafts and left adrift in Turkish waters.8

All of them were pushed back!

November 12th: 50 people reached Greece after crossing the land border. They were arrested and detained in Tychero. Alarmphone made the case public, UNHCR was informed and lawyers involved.9

All of them were pushed back!

According to Mitarakis this is what “European law expects us to do”, even though every single one of these documented pushbacks is a criminal act and violates human rights. The confidence in which he states the obvious lie that there are no illegal pushbacks being performed, can only come from a minister that not only has the full support of his own government but is also being backed up by the European Union. And he is right! Every one of those cases was made public, but no kind of public or legal intervention could stop a pushback from being carried out. Border police and the Hellenic Coast Guard obviously can commit any kind of crime against refugees without having to fear any consequences. The European Union has not even brought itself to criticize this brutal and inhumane ‘modus operandi’ at its external borders. Quite the contrary: The EU continues to support the standardization of human rights violation in the Aegean by financing Frontex and the Greek government’s ‘border management’, for instance in September with an additional € 23.8 million from the Internal Security Fund.10  

The EU’s opportunistic silence and financial support are shameful and need to stop. Leaving it’s southern members to take the complete responsibility for all arriving refugees and then turning a blind eye to the illegal and brutal methods being used, lies in sharp contrast to international & European law and to what the European Union claims to be its values.

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