From April to the end of June 2021, Mare Liberum counted 119 pushbacks in the Aegean Sea, in which at least 3289 people were illegally prevented from reaching the EU. At the same time, it is clear that the practice of systematic pushbacks continues to ensure that very few people reach the Greek islands. Thus, according to UNHCR, around 400 people arrived on the Aegean islands in the last three months. So the number of arrivals represents only a fraction of the people pushed back in the Aegean at the same time. The number of arrivals has been at an all-time low since April 2020 and can be linked to the implementation of illegal and deeply violent pushbacks by the Hellenic Coast Guard as well as FRONTEX.

While there is little information about the exact process of most pushbacks, from time to time individual cases are well documented. The fact that there are pushbacks in the Aegean is now without question. The brutality with which Europe meets refugees remains alarming. The following examples from the last three months illustrate this: 

In the night of 2 to 3 April, five different boats with more than 230 people on board were illegally pushed back while trying to reach Lesvos [1]. The case is a prime example of how, in the geopolitical conflict between Turkey and Greece, the lives of people on the move are instrumentalised to influence European policy. There are different versions of what happened that night [2]. Klar ist jedoch, dass sowohl griechische und türkische Behörden, als auch Frontex vor Ort und an Grundrechtsverletzungen beteiligt waren oder diese zumindest beobachtet und geduldet haben.

On 29 May, two people were thrown into Turkish waters by Greek border authorities and managed to swim to the Turkish island of Başak [3]. This is the third documented case this year of the Hellenic Coast Guard throwing people directly into the sea in the course of a pushbac [4]. It is obvious how this behaviour of the authorities endangers the lives of people fleeing. 

On 10 June, 31 people were intercepted off Kos by several Hellenic Coast Guard vessels, pushed back and found later that day in Turkish waters by the Turkish Coast Guard. The pushback was filmed and documented [5]. Das Video verdeutlicht, wie menschenverachtend die Grenzbehörden arbeiten.

Life rafts are still a frequently used means of the Hellenic Coast Guard to drop people off at sea. People who have already arrived on the islands are also regularly taken back to sea. 

Compared to the first quarter of this year, the number of documented pushbacks has increased significantly. Between January and March, for example, we counted around 1,479 people who were pushed back. As more people usually try to cross the maritime border in the warmer months, the increased number of pushbacks can mainly be attributed to an increased number of crossings. However, even compared to the same period last year (April - June 2020), the number of people pushed back in the past three months has once again increased by around 20%. Lesvos is still the main destination for people crossing the Aegean Sea. But people were also pushed back illegally off Samos, Chios, Rhodes, Kos and Simi this year.

It is important to note that there are no official statistics on pushbacks. The figures mentioned here refer to pushbacks that became public. Not all pushbacks come to light. Furthermore, the numbers of pushbacks in the Aegean can only be compared to the previous year, as there has only been more systematic reporting since last year. But that does not mean that there were no pushbacks before. In fact, we have known about pushbacks for decades, and since the 2000s they have been increasingly documented by NGOs, solidarity structures and journalists.

Dass beinahe täglich Pushbacks an der EU-Außengrenze passieren, ist kein Geheimnis. Die Verantwortlichkeit der griechischen Küstenwache sowie der sogenannten europäischen Grenzschutzagentur FRONTEX ist vielfach nachgewiesen. Echte Konsequenzen lassen weiterhin auf sich warten. Stattdessen wird die Militarisierung der europäischen Außengrenze weiter voran getrieben und dies mit den perfidesten Mitteln. So testeten die griechischn Grenzschutzbehörden kürzlich sogenannte sound cannons an der Landgrenze mit der Türkei, die eigesetzt werden sollen, um migrierende Personen von der Grenzüberquerung aus der Türkei in die EU abzuhalten [6]. These produce extreme sound levels of around 160 decibels, comparable to a jet plane, and can cause serious psychological stress disorders, trauma and retraumatisation, in addition to physical injuries such as eardrum damage. In order to keep people on the move from Europe, any way seems to be possible in the meantime. Pushbacks and other forms of inhumane border violence must be fought at all levels. In solidarity with all those who have to risk their lives every day because of the deadly European policy of isolation!

Mare Liberum i. A.

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