Pushing back refugees, pushing away witnesses

The Hellenic Coastguard is systematically performing brutal pushbacks to Turkey on a daily basis. Meanwhile, European states have failed to condemn these illegal practices. It is apparent that Mare Liberum and other civilian groups that are reporting on crimes against people on the move will most likely face repression in a politically motivated attempt to silence critical voices.

On September 28th, the Greek police issued a press release stating that there are ongoing criminal investigations against 4 NGOs, 33 individuals associated with them, and 2 'third-country nationals' "for an organized circuit to facilitate the illegal entry of aliens into Greek territory."

The charges, besides human trafficking, include forming and joining a criminal organization, espionage, violation of State secrets and violation of the Immigration Code.

Neither Mare Liberum nor any other NGO nor any individual has been named officially, even though there is a consensus in the Greek media that Mare Liberum will be at the center of the criminal case.

Even though the potential allegations are beyond absurd, we are taking this great effort by the Greek authorities to link us to criminal activities in this harsh political climate seriously.

The Greek authorities' repression of anyone who is supporting refugees is part of the daily life on Lesvos and other Greek islands, and it has been creating a toxic atmosphere of anguish for quite some time. But the extent to which criminalization and harassment has been exponentially increasing--first and foremost for refugees but also for NGOs and solidarity structures under the new right-wing conservative government--is astounding. Many NGOs and activist networks have been forced to stop operating on the islands.

This year alone, our crew has had to resist fascist attacks, overcome several attempts of intimidation, and stay on a ship blocked by the German Government.

In addition, the Greek authorities have criminalized and harassed our crew. On the morning of September 5th, approximately 25 police officials, Hellenic Coast guards and special forces stormed on board the Mare Liberum. The ship was searched for two hours and all phones and computers were confiscated. During the raid, the crew was neither informed of the legal grounds for the search nor of their rights. Furthermore, one of our crew members experienced racist treatment by the Greek authorities.

Testimony: “I was woken up by special forces and immediately separated from the rest of the crew. I was the only one who had to kneel down on the front deck and was forced to look to the floor. The police didn’t believe that I was German.”

After the raid, four crew-members, some of whom had arrived to Lesvos only a couple of days before, were held at the police station for almost 6 hours. There was no official arrest, nor interrogation. We are still waiting for an official explanation and for the return of all electronic devices.

Mare Liberum has been monitoring human rights in the Aegean since 2017 and its crew members are strong advocates for the rights of refugees.

We are now being targeted for our documentary work and for exposing systematic crimes against humanity committed by the Hellenic Coast Guard in cooperation with Frontex and NATO. These parties have created a tight, militarized net to keep refugees from reaching European soil by any means necessary, including via illegal tactics.

Refugees in the Aegean are exposed to excessive violence including the use of firearms, severe beatings and being abandoned at sea in unseaworthy liferafts. Mare Liberum has been researching these violations. Since March 2020, we have found that more than 7,300 people have been brutally pushed back across the European Union border. We are looking at 7,300 cases of human rights violations on top of 7,300 personal tragedies.

The facts are out there and available for the public. International mainstream media have reported on the push-back practices in the Aegean Sea.

Yet all European states have failed to condemn these criminal operations, thus condoning the illegal and inhumane methods being used.

Given these circumstances, we cannot put our crew members or our organisation at risk. It would not be responsible to put our crew in physical danger on board the Mare Liberum at this time. We will therefore temporarily suspend our mission on the ship. This was a very hard decision to make, but it does not mean that we will stop working altogether. We will use the time for much needed maintenance and will regularly evaluate the situation in order to resume our operations at sea as soon as possible.

In the meantime, we will not be silenced. We will continue exposing the atrocities committed in this European external border region, to stand up against injustice and to advocate for the rights of those who are on the move.

We call for the EU governments to protect refugees from arbitrary violence, from illegal push-backs and from inhumane camps. Now, we also feel impelled to call for solidarity concerning our protection - the protection of our crew from preposterous yet dangerous criminilazation.

These developments cause unforeseen costs, which we can only cover with your support. We need additional funds for legal fees, replacement of confiscated equipment and port fees.

Mare Liberum i. A.

Gneisenaustraße 2a
10961 Berlin