Pushbacks in the Aegean Sea

Greece and the EU try to prevent migrants from crossing Europe’s external border by all means. In cases where migrants do manage to arrive, Greece does not appear to consider itself bound by morality or law and instead forces migrants back over the border to Turkey. This occurs at both the land and sea borders. And the practice is not new, as reports of pushbacks in the Aegean Sea have been made for years. What is new, however, is the extent of these incidents. Over recent months, we have heard about pushbacks taking place almost daily while there is an increasing amount of video and photo evidence, media reports, and investigations.





In most cases, pushbacks see migrants forcibly returned over a border they have just crossed. Pushbacks are not deportations, since migrants have no opportunity to apply for asylum and thus are denied access to national and European legal structures. This practice is illegal for several reasons. According to the Geneva Refugee Convention, everybody has the right to request international protection.

Likewise, according to the non-refoulment principle, states must not turn away anyone who enters their borders with the intention of seeking asylum. These principles are encoded in the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and thus binding for all EU states.

At the same time, pushbacks at sea almost always affect a group of people who cross the border together in a boat, despite the fact that collective deportations are also prohibited under the EU charter. The law of the sea also decrees that boats in distress must be rescued, irrespective of who is in distress and who is rescuing.

Forms of Pushbacks

„All of them were wearing black maks, grey shirts and camouflage pants. Two of them carried long sticks. They were used to keep everyone in check by beating them, rendering them unable to prevent a third man with a knife from cutting a hole into their dinghy and the fuel hose.“

„We were 25 in the boat. We arrived on Samos at 4 a.m. We stayed on Samos for 4 hours. The Greeks on Samos, they came to search for us. The police brought us back to the beach and threw us into their boat. Then they brough us to a small island. Also they called the turks to come and search for us. They threw our bags in the water and everything.“

„They arrived on land [Samos] and were put in a bus, but they were not brought to a camp. Insteadt they were brought to the shoreline again, put in a tiny, tiny dinghy, like a childrens toy, and then they [the Hellenic Coast Guard] brought them to sea and left them there.“

„One of the shoot bullets in the air and everything and then hit our boat. He was banging and banging and banging, and he asked the skipper to stop the engine. […] Then one of them got into our boat, he stopped the engine, he took off the engine and then he threw it into the water.“

„[We] saw a Greek Coast Guard boat. It was big and had the Greek flag on it… They started pushing back our boat, by creating waves in the water making it hard for us to continue… It was like a battle – like living in Syria, we thought we were going to die.“

„They took everything from us: money, bags, phones“ he says. They removed the Greek flag from the naval boat, led them to the middle seas, and boarded them in four liferafts. They were forced to climb with twenty people in each raft, while – according to specifications – its capacity os for 12 people.

Überblick über Pushbacks

DatePlacePeople involvedDescriptionCategorySource
März 2020
01/03/2020near Mytilene49 people (18 children)Speedboat with black-masked men attacked migrant boat twice, destroyed engine, Turkish Coast Guards were on the scene, they probably reached the Greek shore after allPushback attemptWatch The Med / Alarmphone
23/03/2020outside Datça31 people (11 children, 4 women, 16 men)were found in a life raft outside Datça, claim to have landed on Simi and put in a life raft by the port policelife raftAegean Boat Report
18/03/2020outside Mytilene 36 people (10 children)stopped by Hellenic Coast Guards, destroyed the engine and left them in the sea, Turkish Coast Guards and a NATO RIB were there as well but didn’t interveneleft at seaAegean Boat Report

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