Last week, probably one of the most brutal pushbacks ever documented took place in the Aegean. According to the Turkish Coast Guard and Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, who posted a video of the case on Twitter [1], seven people were pushed back from the Greek island of Chios on the night of March 19th 2021. Their cell phones and belongings were taken from them, they were beaten and finally tied with cable straps, according to the reports. The Coast Guard then took them out to the sea and threw them into the water without a lifeboat (according to some reports, also without life jackets, but this is not confirmed, as for example the person in the video is wearing a vest). Two people were rescued out of the water that night, one of them later died in the hospital. Two other people were found on the island of Boğaz. Two bodies were recovered from the sea. One person was considered missing and was found alive on March 21st in the Çeşme region [2].

The information on this pushback comes only from Turkish authorities and is difficult to confirm, especially since the Turkish government is also pursuing its own interests on the issue. However, the pushback case was violent and brutal and is in line with the pushbacks documented over the past months and years. 

It is a standard procedure of the Hellenic Coast Guard to seize phones and personal belongings from refugees and in many cases to destroy them. It is also sadly no longer uncommon for the authorities to illegally abandon people who have already been on Greek soil, or in some cases even inside camps, out at sea. In 2020 we counted 26 similar cases [3]. Cable straps as handcuffs have also been used in previous pushbacks by the Hellenic Coast Guard, as reported by Aegean Boat Report [4]. Finally, this is the second documented case this year of people on the move being pushed back and thrown into the sea. Also on January 27th, four people from Palestine and Somalia were pushed back from Chios, brought near a small island (Fener Adasi, Turkey) and thrown into the water while wearing life jackets. They reached the island, which is more like a rock in the sea, and waited there for three days without food or water until the Turkish Coast Guard found them [5].

The comparison with other pushback cases is not intended in any way to relativize the inhumane cruelty of the March 19th case, but only to show how, despite the excessive use of force, the incident fits into the series of systematic pushbacks by the Hellenic Coast Guard. 

In a statement, the Hellenic Coast Guard denied the incident, calling the report 'fake news', as with other reports of pushbacks before [6]. However, just last week, the mayor of Samos said that pushbacks provided security to the residents of the Aegean islands and deprived Turkey and smuggling rings of a weapon to fight Greece [7]. It was the first time that pushbacks were publicly admitted by a Greek official.

We mourn the three people who died and we are angry. It is no longer a secret what happens in the Aegean on a daily basis. It is no secret how pushbacks are carried out and who is involved. Frontex's unwillingness to clarify the few cases they are admitting shows how well pushbacks at the external borders fit into European migration policy. Deterrence leads to deaths at the borders. In the Aegean, on the Evros, in the Western Balkans as well as on the central Mediterranean, off the Canary Islands, on the English Channel and everywhere in Europe, people are dying as a result of aggressive border and deterrence policies.

We demand the clarification of the human rights violations and murders of refugees, safe passage and freedom of movement for all!

Mare Liberum i. A.

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