The Alarm Phone witnessed four illegal push-back operations at the Greek-Turkish land border over the course of ten days.
CASE 1: The first case occurred on Saturday the 30th of June 2018. In the early morning, we had been informed about a group of people along the Turkish-Greek land border that was in need of support. Five of them were from Syria, five from Sierra Leone, six men, two women, and two children. We contacted the travellers, received their GPS position, and notified the police to their whereabouts, as the travellers had asked us to do. The police confirmed to us that they would search for them. Hours later, in the early afternoon, one of the members of the group told us that she was on her way back to Istanbul. She informed us about what had happened to them: At around 9am local time, they had been found by Greek officers in blue & black uniforms. Their belongings was taken away, and at least 5 of them were forced back to Turkey. They had not taken any pictures as their phones had been taken away. Our contact person had been able to hide her phone. They were kept in confinement for about one hour and treated badly, “like dogs” she said, before being forced onto a boat that returned them illegally to Turkey.
CASE 2: On Thursday the 5th of July, the second push-back operation was observed by the Alarm Phone. We had received a distress call from a group of Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni and Sudanese migrants who had crossed into Greece seeking international protection. The group was found by the Greek police. The police handed the group to Greek officers who did not hesitate to use violence and intimidation. They were beaten, robbed, and forced onto a boat that returned them to Turkish territory.
CASE 3: In the night of 5th-6th of July 2018, a group of 12 people from Syria and Iraq, including two women, one of whom was elderly, two children (six and eleven years old), and eight men, was reportedly apprehended on Greek soil near Mikrochori in Evros region and pushed back to Turkey. It remains unclear what happened to them upon return to Turkey.
CASE 4: In the night of 9th-10th of July 2018, 19 people from Syria and Iraq, including a one-year-old child, a pregnant woman and a man with a broken leg, were reportedly pushed-back from Greece to Turkey at the land border in Evros. They arrived on 9th July and had sent a SOS-call to the Alarm Phone. The first GPS coordinates received showed their position near Filakto. The group said they had sick kids with them and they were very hungry. A second set of GPS coordinates sent showed them at a position near Provatonas. Communications with the group broke down in the afternoon and only in the late morning of the next day, the group answered again – now from Turkey. They reported that ‘the police’ had found them around 5pm on the 9th of July. They brought them to a place the migrants described as ‘a prison’. At 10pm, the officers allegedly wearing blue trousers and camouflage sweaters, told the group that they would be moved to a camp so that they could apply for international protection. However, instead, they brought them back to the river. There, according to one testimony, the men of the group were beaten. Their belongings such as phones, money, passports and the food for the infant were taken away. They were then put onto a boat at the river and were threatened not to come back to Greece again.
Reacting to our questions concerning cases 3 and 4, the Greek police stated that they had not found anyone at the positions we had provided them with.
The Alarm Phone, when receiving distress calls from groups in the Evros border region who report to have persons among them with special needs, such as pregnant women, people with disabilities, toddlers and infants, elderly or sick, informs the respective authorities (Greek and /or Turkish) upon request of the people in need. In these four cases, GPS positions shared with us showed clearly locations on Greek soil. Despite this fact and despite many requests for assistance made toward the responsible authorities, the people ended up back in Turkey. Instead of getting access to protection in Greece as requested in their calls for help and their claims to asylum, they were returned to a place where they stated they would be in danger.
The Alarm Phone is very concerned about repeated testimonies of illegal push-backs at the Greek-Turkish land border. We demand respect for the people’s human rights and dignity, as well as for the international law, which is clearly beached in such push-back operations.
Rescue lives! Protect people, not borders!