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. 

Es ist ein Standardverfahren der griechischen Küstenwache, Flüchtenden Telefone und persönlichen Gegenstände abzunehmen und diese in vielen Fällen auch zu zerstören. Es ist zudem traurigerweise auch nicht mehr ungewöhnlich, dass die Behörden Menschen, die bereits auf griechischem Boden oder teilweise sogar in Lagern waren illegalerweise wieder auf dem Meer auszusetzen. 2020 haben wir 26 ähnliche Fälle gezählt [3]. Cable straps as handcuffs have also been used in previous pushbacks by the Hellenic Coast Guard, as reported by Aegean Boat Report [4]. Schlussendlich ist es bereits der zweite dokumentierte Fall in diesem Jahr, bei dem Menschen auf der Flucht zurückgedrängt und anschließend ins Meer geworfen wurden. Auch am 27. Januar wurden vier Personen aus Palästina und Somalia von Chios zurückgedrängt, in die Nähe einer kleinen Insel (Fener Adasi, Türkei) gebracht und dort mit Rettungswesten ins Wasser geworfen. Sie erreichten die Insel, die eher ein Felsen im Meer ist und warteten dort drei Tage lang ohne Essen oder Wasser, bis die türkische Küstenwache sie fand [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 e.V.

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