A new report by the organization Mare Liberum shows an unprecedented escalation of human rights violations in the Aegean during the last year, both at sea and on land. Mare Liberum documented that from March to December alone, over 9,000 people on the move were violently pushed back to Turkey and thus deprived of their right to asylum. In addition, the report highlights that besides the Greek Coast Guard as the main actor, the European border agency Frontex and ships under NATO command are also involved in these systematic and illegal expulsions.

Please find the whole report here.

Berlin, 11.02.2021 – Mare Liberum's new report shows an escalation of violence against refugees in Greece over the past year. By reconstructing pushback cases, for example through testimonies of survivors, Mare Liberum documented 321 incidents in which 9,798 people were illegally pushed back from March to December 2020. In most cases, the inflatable boats of people seeking protection are destroyed and the people inside, including children, are deliberately subjected to physical and psychological violence. In some cases, refugees were even pushed back after they had already reached Greek soil.

“These pushbacks are not isolated or extreme instances of European deterrence, but rather the current and everyday "modus operandi" at the EU's external border. Pushbacks can only be understood as part of an inhumane and deadly policy of deterrence that is visible far beyond the borders of the Aegean Sea. We live in a Europe where people are abandoned at sea in tiny life rafts, instead of legally accepting people seeking protection”, said Paul Hanewinkel of Mare Liberum, one of the authors of the report.

Last year clearly showed that pushbacks are not carried out by the Greek authorities alone, but rather in cooperation with the European border protection agency Frontex. Mare Liberum's report also documents the involvement of the German federal police (Bundespolizei) in human rights violations against refugees.

Illegal pushbacks at Europe's external borders are not an unfamiliar phenomenon, but they have reached an entirely new dimension - in their scale, the precise methodology and the strategically deployed violence and humiliation. The Aegean Sea has become a lawless space for people on the move, where de facto human rights have been suspended out of political reasons. Even though the evidence of these systematic violations is overwhelming and well-known, there have been no legal or political consequences for those responsible. 

“Pushbacks are human rights crimes that are organized primarily by Greek authorities, but form a common and inhumane European strategy. For these brutal pushbacks to stop, we call for independent control instances, the clarification of all previous cases and the abolition of Frontex, an agency which deliberately disregards the rights of refugees. We demand that all authorities involved in pushbacks are held accountable on a national and international level”, Paul Hanewinkel continues.

Background Information

The new report documents human rights violations in the Aegean Sea that have become public or of which Mare Liberum has taken note during the past year. The documentation is mainly done by reconstructing pushbacks through the testimonies of witnesses who were themselves pushed back at the Greek-Turkish border, cross-checking and evaluating official government websites, press reports and data from other organizations and actors. In addition to the pushbacks, the report also documents the situation for refugees in Lesvos, for example in the quarantine camps on the island.

The organization Mare Liberum has been present off the coast of Lesbos since 2018. However, active engagement at the EU external border was hardly possible in 2020 due to the blockade of both ships by German authorities and an ongoing criminalization campaign against the volunteer activists and the organization in Greece.

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