A group of 19 refugees who had reached Greek waters was first put in danger by the Greek military and then violently and illegally returned to Turkish waters by the Hellenic Coast Guard, where they were forced into two life rafts and abandoned floating at sea. Pushbacks like this happen every single day. In 2020 around 9,000 people were pushed back by the Hellenic Coast Guard, Frontex and ships under NATO command.1 Human rights violations have become a terrible normality in the Aegean.
Read this testimony by Hasan, that not only shows how the Greek military and the Hellenic Coast Guard work, but also how they willingly risk the lives of refugees and use unnecessary and traumatizing violence:
We spoke to a person who was pushed back on October 30th 2020 on Their way to Rhodes. They could hide a phone from the authorities and document the incident. They were 5 women, 9 men, 5 children aged 2, 3, 11 and 13 in the boat. 15 were Syrian and 4 Palestinian. All of them gathered in Marmaris, Turkey on 30 October at 7 p.m. and were then taken to a boat at the shore.
They started off towards Greece, after 2 hours the engine broke and they couldn’t make it work again. After 30 minutes of floating at sea a Greek military ship spotted them here, clearly in Greek waters:
„They [Greek military] threw ropes to our boat and started pulling us towards [them], and because of the high waves, our boat hit their ship and became broken, the water start to fill it.
They asked us to climb to their ship. I was the first one, then [they] asked me to help the others, of course with shouting and pushing.
Once I helped a Palestinian mom and her 3 years old girl to be on-board, one officer came and started yelling at us in his language, I couldn’t understand what he was saying, then [he] asked the other soldiers to return us back to the damaged boat. The woman and her girl went back to the boat, then I followed.
Then they used long sticks and pushed us away from their ship around 30 meter, and stand watching us. After 5 minutes, the Hellenic Coast Guard arrived, and pulled us the same way as the military ship did.
Once they put us on the Coast Guard ship, they shot our boat approximately 20 times till destroying it completely. It was [an] automatic machine gun. Like M16 or something. More than 20 times. Or more, we were not focused and shaking, we lost track. The babies and kids were so scared of the shooting. Crying and screaming, even one of the girls almost passed [out]. We used Hand sanitizer to [wake] her. It was scary moments really.. I hope this ends.
They shouted, yelled [at] us again, and searched all our bags and searched us one by one, they took all our phones, and some people’ wallets. They drove around one hour or one and a half hours, we were in the back of the ship.
They prepared orange small boats with flashing light on the top, It was blown with air, then they divided us into 2 groups and pushed us inside these orange boats into the sea, that was around 12 midnight (I am not sure about the time as no phones with us and they didn’t allow us to ask or speak or even look to the ship, they told us to look to the sea as we were in the back of the ship).“
„The sea was playing us, the wave washed us and start getting close to the coast, which coast we didn’t know, because we didn't know where we [were].
After maybe 3 hours we reached to a rocky coast with sharp edges rocks, our boat smashed on it and damaged, the water start go inside it. Here we saw the lights of the Turkish Coast Guard.
Two ships came and pulled us far from the coast by rope, and took us to their center at Marmaris, we arrived around 6 am, we stayed there till 10 am, then took us to the Janderma (borders guard). We stayed the whole day there, 7 pm they took us to the immigration, then to the bus station.
I didn’t tell you about the scare and the moment we faced during the trip in the sea [in the life rafts] when the waves almost flipped us. All what I thought is to see my kids before I die. It was horrible.
I want the people to know that, we are not careless people, we don’t underestimate out life, we love to live, each one of us has a story behind him. It’s just, we are escaping (most of us) from inevitable death, risking whatever left to provide our kids a minimum level of safe living in secure place.”
This testimony shows how the Greek military forced people into a boat that was already in poor condition and which they themselves further damaged by collision. This is clearly criminal and consciously endangers the lives of the refugees.
The same applies for abandoning the life rafts at sea. By confiscating all phones (along with all their money and belongings) the Hellenic Coast Guard takes way their only possibility to call for help while being stuck on life rafts unable to navigate, in the middle of the night, exposed to the rough sea.
Moreover, this testimony is a further example that the Hellenic Coast Guard uses excessive physical and psychological violence against refugees. The use of an automatic machine gun to disable the boat can be deeply traumatic - especially for children, who fled a war-torn country. In this situation a simple cut with a knife would have been enough to sink the flimsy rubber boat. Creating an atmosphere of absolute terror by shouting, pushing, shooting with a machine gun is a form of torture that goes beyond just illegal dragging of people over a border. The idea seems to be to severely traumatize refugees so that they will not longer try to cross the Aegean.
This is the dreadful reality of migrants trying to seek safety in Europe. This is what Europe does to people who dare to flee war and enter the ‚fortress‘. This is not only illegal but also deeply inhumane and degrading. The systematic use of excessive violence and illegal pushbacks in border regions has become an integral part of Europe’s isolationist policy.
© Header Picture: Toni Petraschk / Mare Liberum