Aegean Regional Analysis

Photo: Manel Joāo Piedade de Abreu

I. Introduction: most frequented route, repressive environment and dramatic situation in the hotspots

In 2019 the Alarm Phone received alerts in 223 cases from the Aegean region. In the last year, the Eastern Mediterranean Route to Europe was again the source of our largest number of emergency calls. The situations the travellers calling us had to overcome were manifold. Most of the travellers called us from the sea, when their engines had stopped, water was entering the boat and they were afraid of drowning. Sometimes people had fallen into the water during the landing and were in life threatening situations due to the cold. Other groups experienced human rights violations at sea, for example being attacked by masked men who disabled their engines and left them adrift in distress at sea. Several cases involved illegal push/pull backs. Several groups called us after they had already arrived on Greek islands. In many cases these were bigger groups, often with a lot of children among them. In 2019 only a few groups contacted us after having crossed the land border in the Evros region. These were special cases. Generally we witnessed human rights violations such as push-backs.

The East Mediterranean / Aegean Sea was again the most important migration route into Europe in 2019. 74,482 arrivals were counted: 59,591 came by sea and 14,891 via the land border marked by the river Evros/Maritsa. Among the newcomers, refugees from Afghanistan (38.6%) make up the biggest group, followed by Syrians (27.8%).[1]

About 40% of those arriving in Greece in 2019 were children. Of those, more than 6 out of 10 are below the age of 12. Moreover, 16% of all children were registered upon arrival as unaccompanied or separated[2]. More than 20% of the travellers are women, a lot of them single mothers whose husbands, on many occasions, have been in Europe for years. As receiving a status that enables you to reunite with your family becomes harder and harder, the European asylum regime is forcing more and more family members to take these dangerous routes to reunite.[3]

The new government that came to power in summer 2019 in Greece is implementing anti-migratory repressive policies and introduced a highly criticised new asylum law by the end of last year. Additionally, police presence in public spaces was increased and police controls of a racist character grew in number. In this hostile environment, a greater number of xenophobic and racist incidents against migrants and refugees were also witnessed.[4] These were specifically in places to which the government tried to transfer people from the islands, locations where they had announced the opening of new camps, and at schools which had to take in refugee kids. In parallel, repression by the authorities against solidarity structures grew. It started with evictions of squats housing refugees in Athens, but the pressure on spotting and sea rescue teams, such as those on Lesvos, was also ratcheted up. One case in point was the expulsion of activist Salam Aldeen, who became well known after he was criminalised for rescuing people at sea.

The dirty EU-Turkey ‘Deal’ was reinforced and is still a major tool designed to keep people in need of protection out of Europe. The implementation of the ‘Deal’ has lead, amongst other things, to an increase in interceptions on the Turkish side of the border and the entrapment of thousands on the Aegean Islands. Most travellers have to try several times to reach Greece and face interceptions from the Turkish Coast Guard. In some cases travellers also face violence and pull- or push-backs. Readmissions to Turkey have been steadily decreasing since 2016[5], but are a key objective of the new right wing government of Greece. Their stated aim is to send back 10,000 people in 2020. For this purpose, they plan to construct more closed camps on the islands and the mainland. Human Rights organisations fear that the newly introduced accelerated asylum procedure, which has fewer procedural safeguards, is putting more people in danger of readmission to Turkey and deportation to their home countries. Deterrence, detention and deportation are the focusses of these policies.

Dramatic conditions in the overcrowded hot-spots on the Aegean Islands leave people without any safety and put them at further risk. The numbers of people residing officially in the hotspots in early 2020 reached a peak of 36,500 (on Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos)[6], while the official capacity is only 8,092[7]. More than 28,000 people have to stay in dire conditions in makeshift shelters, such as summer tents, in the informal sites outside of the hotspots. They are currently enduring the winter, trying to survive the cold, wind, heavy rain-falls and snow. There are many vulnerable people among them.

Reports of attacks on refugee boats, pull- and push-backs at sea and land rise. The ongoing human rights violations at the borderline endanger the travellers’ lives and put them at further risk of refoulement. In the second half of 2019[8] we were alerted[9] to 143 cases from the Aegean. In the period covered by this report[10] we recorded 13 cases of push-backs, pull-backs or attacks on refugee boats in the sea and one push-back at the land border. Among the sea cases there were also three from the East Thrakian Region south of Alexandroupolis / north of Samothraki Island, a route that has gained more importance since early 2018.

Turkey started another war in Northern Syria against Rojava. The war-propaganda of the Turkish government has been used to justify the forced displacement of the local population in Northern Syria (mainly Kurdish people) and the systematic implementation of illegal returns of up to three million Syrian refugees from Turkey. The Turkish government has used threats to ‘open the borders to Europe’ and let thousands of refugees pass, in order to find support for their ongoing attacks in Syria.

Deaths at border continue. 71 people lost their lives in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece/Cyprus in 2019[11]. January 2020 also started with deaths and grief. At least 40 people lost their lives, though more people are still missing but are believed to have drowned. Again we also had to witness death in the hot spots and detention camps along the borderline. We will never forget any one. Our thoughts are with their relatives and friends.

We dedicate this report to Yolland Hamdan and all others who lost their lives trying to reach a safe place. Yolland Hamdan died on 2 January 2020 in the Aegean Sea.

In the following Alarm Phone report we want to focus on some of the situations travellers reported to us, as well as on the overall situation on the Eastern Mediterranean / Aegean Route to Europe. Our hearts are with all those who struggle at the borders for their freedom to move.

II. Pull-backs, push-backs and attacks by masked men at land and sea

Survivor accounts of illegal push- or pull-backs as well as other forms of attacks on travellers on the eastern Greek sea and land borders rose in line with an overall steady increase in emergency calls reaching the Alarm Phone from the Aegean.[12] The Alarm Phone received several reports of people in Greek territorial water, but who were still near the borderline, who had been stopped, immobilised and ordered to return into Turkish waters by Greek coastguard or masked men. The result invariably was interception by the Turkish authorities and a pull-back to Turkey. Most of the documented incidents happened near Lesvos, although some occurred near Samothraki / Alexandroupoli.

While compared to last year, less people called us from the land border than in 2019. Accounts of push-backs along the land border have, however, been recorded continuously by other activist groups, human rights organisations and in the media[13]. We join them in denouncing these unending violations of human rights in the Evros area.

In the following you will find a representative selection of cases documented by the Alarm Phone in the Aegean between June 2019 and January 2020.

Aegean Sea

On September 23, 2019 our shift-team was alerted at 3:33am to a group of around 30 travellers in distress in the south of Lesvos. They were drifting close to the borderline in Turkish waters. Before contacting us, they had been attacked by a boat carrying men who had destroyed their engine. At 4:53am the Turkish coastguard arrived on the position we had earlier provided to them. At the same time another boat, presumably a Greek coastguard vessel, which had been close at hand observing the situation for a while, disappeared. When we spoke to the travellers again, they reported that the attackers had taken away the phone of one person who had taken photos of the attack and who was subsequently beaten up by the attackers.

“All people in the boat were from Syria. We had seven pregnant women with us and 13 children. Two children were very sick and there were also three old women. That night a small jet boat came with persons wearing black and masks and broke our motor and left. After two hours the Turkish Coast Guard came. Then they took us to the border with Syria. The single men were sent to Syria. The Turkish police handed them to the Syrian army (not with ASSAD) and the families were left on the border in a place called Kilis. We were trying to reach Europe to be safe, to reunite with our families, to get medical treatment necessary for our kids but we were returned to war.”

On September 28, 2019 after midnight a boat in the south of Lesvos (near Plomari) with about 40 travelers (including around 15 kids) sent an emergency message to the Alarm Phone. One could hear a voice shouting: “Help, help we are alone in the middle of nowhere.” In the background kids were crying.The boat had been attacked by another boat crewed by unidentifiable men, who stole their engine and left them adrift. The Alarm Phone alerted the Greek coastguard giving the location of the boat. The Greek coastguard insisted the boat in distress was behind the borderline on the Turkish side. Then we informed the Turkish coastguards. Two hours later the Turkish coastguards confirmed the rescue.

On October 29, 2019 early in the morning the Alarm Phone was called by a group of about 30 travelers, among them several women, children and babies. Their engine had stopped a couple of hours previously and they had been paddling with their hands ever since. They sent a GPS location which was very close to the border in Greek territorial waters. The wind was pushing them toward Lesvos. We informed the Greek coastguard. When we passed them the GPS location, they stated it was in Turkish waters and urged us to call the Turkish coastguards. According to our map it was clear that they were in Greek waters. We sent an e-mail to the Greek coastguard with all the information, including the position. We then also informed the Turkish coastguards. The Turkish coastguards called us back and asked us to confirm the GPS location because the one we had passed to them was, in their opinion, in Greek waters. They queried their responsibility for the rescue. Shortly afterwards, we updated the Greek coastguard, but they insisted on their point. They also informed us that itwo boats in distress had already been picked up by the Turkish coastguards in that area.

On October 30, 2019 our shift-team was alerted by a relative to a boat heading towards Samothraki that was taking in water. One hour later, we received a location which was in Greek waters. The relatives alerted the Greek coastguard. When we could establish a direct connection to the boat, we realized that the travelers were moving back towards Turkey, as their new position was further away from Greece. At 10:26am the Greek coast guard informed us that people on board had been intercepted by Turkish coast guard.

“We were 25 passengers from Afghan and Iran. Among us were maybe 10 women 3-4 kids. One woman was pregnant. She gave birth that night upon our return to Turkey. We started in the early morning hours in the darkness and were four hours at sea. When we reached 1000 metres near Samothraki a white boat arrived from the Greek side which was written on “coast guard”. They ordered us to stop and threw a rope. One young man who didn’t want to take the rope got beaten on his head with a metal stick they used. He was injured. They insulted us badly in English. Then they pulled us back towards a Turkey. Then they left us with a second bigger boat. We think it was from the NATO. They waited nearby until the boat of the Turkish Coast Guard arrived. They arrested us and took us to 6 days in the police station of Enes. They kept the single men in detention and released us families with kids only. We told to the Greeks we wanted to apply from asylum, but they returned us back. It was the seventh time I tried with my family to reach Europe.”

On November 11, 2019 we were informed at 9:30pm about a boat with 30 travellers close to Chios. They had just crossed the borderline to Greece when they called for help. At 9:34pm our shift-team reached out to the Greek coastguard. At 9:48pm the people on board reported that they had just been attacked by a boat. The attackers took their petrol and pushed them towards Turkey. The contact to the travellers broke down and could not be re-established. We assume that the people ended up back in Turkey.

On November 13, 2019 in the late evening, a distress-call came in concerning a boat with nine travellers, among them a pregnant woman and a one year old. The boat was drifting east of Lesvos (between Mytilene and Thermi) on the borderline. They had been attacked. Their engine had been taken away and they had been pushed towards Turkish waters. At 23:38pm we informed the Greek coastguard in Piraeus, who called us back 20 minutes later, estimating that the boat might have drifted towards Turkish waters due to winds and currents and informed our team that the Turkish coastguard had picked up a boat in that area. At 1:38am the travellers confirmed being back in Turkey, and reported about an attack by a boat with men wearing clothes marked with Greek flags.[14]

“We started from Dikili. Our destination was Lesvos. When we were 1km far from Lesvos a big silver boat reached us coming from the Greek side. It looked like a navy boat. We were so near, we could see the cars and humans on the island walking. The big boat first didn’t come very close to us. They started shouting we should stop. I told them my wife was pregnant, we needed help. They said they were from the NATO. I understood there was a doctor in the big ship and we could come inside. But it was a lie to make us calm. They threw a smaller boat in the sea which came to us. There were three officers in it from the coast guard. I had our one year old child and my wife was in the ninth month pregnant. The small red high-speed boat with big motors came to us. They took our engine and fixed a rope to our boat. I tried to take my phone and make a video of what was going on. They shouted: ‘No phone, no phone’. One of them got angry a lot. He boxed me on my throat. My wife was screaming, she got terrified. They pulled us back to Turkish waters driving for one hour and 15 minutes. Then the Turkish coast guard came and intercepted us. My wife was bleeding a lot. She stayed two days in hospital and then gave birth. We don’t know if the baby is fine. My wife was injured from war in Syria. Her condition is very bad. All our relatives are in Europe. No one is left in Syria. We lost our money trying to reach safety. we didn’t want our second child to be born in Turkey but we had no choice. Now we sleep in the streets. We have no money for food or medicine.”

On December 21, 2019 in the early morning a relative called the Alarm Phone and alerted us to boat in distress south of Alexandroupoli. Onboard were 21 travellers, among them 7 children. According to the GPS position they were in Greek waters. Our shift team were not able to reach the travellers. A little later, the relative stated that water was entering the boat. And half an hour later he told us that the boat was about to lose air. Our shift team called the Greek coastguard at 03:51am and also sent an email with all the available information. An hour later, the Greek coastguard informed the Alarm Phone that the boat had been detected at the given position. In another half hour, they confirmed that the people rescued matched the information we had provided and that they were safe on a boat of their coastguard. Later we learned that the persons on board had been transferred to Alexandroupoli. The whole group was pushed back from the land border to Turkey, except one family with a pregnant lady and two kids.

Photo: Manel Joāo Piedade de Abreu

Evros landborder

Although the Aegean Sea has remained the main route for people seeking protection by clandestine crossings of the border to Greece, in 2019 the landborder has not lost its importance. There were almost 15,000 arrivals in the last year. At the same time systematic illegal push-backs and violent attacks to newcomers in the area have not stopped since the new government took control in July 2019. Instead Greece seems to be taking further steps and making major investments to control the already heavily militarized Evros region and its borders in order to keep refugees and migrants out at any cost.

In November 2019 a publication by the German ‘der Spiegel’ of video-material documenting the ongoing human rights violations at the Greek-Turkish landborder in the Evros Region provided rare visual proof of the abuse. According to their information in October alone 6,500 people had been pushed-back, whilst in 12 months prior to publication 60,000 had been illegally returned. The news followed a public outcry in Greece after official statements of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, according to which over 25,000 people had been pushed back to Turkey from Greece in the first ten months of 2019 – information which the Greek government claimed to be untrue.[15]

A month later, in December, the Greek Ministry of Νational Defense announced the restoration of the 10.3km border fence which was built in 2012 and that an additional 400 border guards would be employed from March 2020 so that they could intensify the mixed patrols of soldiers and police officers. They also promised the addition of aerial patrols by helicopter to supplement border control measures.[16] They also planned to supply further high tech equipment, such as thermal cameras,[17] and more NATO type barbed wire on other main border crossing points. Over the last decade changing Greek governments have always focused their policies on a successive increase of controls at the landborder. These military style fortification go hand in hand with more than 10 years of impunity for illegal push backs.[18]

On 9 November, 2019 out shift-team was alerted to the case of an elderly woman with a 14-year-old boy who had lost the group they were travelling with because they were unable to continue walking. They were near a mosque in the village of Mega Dereio in the Evros region in Greece, already 32km from the Turkish-Greek border. The elderly woman stated to the shift-team that she had no money, no food, no water, but that she was afraid to go back to Turkey and that she would like to apply for asylum in Greece. She said that she had diabetes and that her feet were hurting. She was afraid that the Greek police would send her back. They had been in Greece for four days. They had walked with a big group, but the other people had left them behind because the woman and the boy were so slow. A person found them on the way and brought them to a village. The sheikh of the local mosque put them in a room and gave them water and food. At this point, they had been in the village for two days. At 16:33pm the Alarm Phone messages were not reaching the woman anymore. At 16:40pm we send an email to UNHCR and NGOs and at 21:49pm another one.The next day at 14:11pm our shift-team learned that the woman and the child had been intercepted by Greek authorities and were illegally sent back to Turkey.


Beside being a hotline primarily dealing with calls from people who are in distress at sea, we also receive calls from the land border – mainly between Greece and Turkey, but also from other areas in the Balkans. People calling the Alarm Phone from this area, usually found themselves in serious danger.

On September 18, 2019 shortly after midnight our team was alerted to a group of three very young men, probably minors who were close to the border to Macedonia. They sent a video of one of them lying on the ground unconscious. They were afraid that he was dead. Another one of them had an injured leg. It took us a while to reach someone in the closest police station in Kilkis. Around 2:00am the next day the three teenagers were picked up by the police. The young man who had fainted was treated and recovered.

On November 8, 2019 we got a call from a pregnant woman who was walking with her family – three adults and two children – in Croatia close to the Bosnian border. She had open wounds on her feet and was unable to continue walking, but was afraid to call an ambulance because the police could come to push them back. We alerted an ambulance, the police and in parallel the ombudsman and an NGO in Croatia to make the situation visible to the authorities and demanded that the rights of the family should be respected. In the night contact to the people was reestablished and they confirmed that they were safe and in a refugee camp in Zagreb.

Photo: Salinia Stroux

III. Stories of people upon arrival

Meeting with families who contacted the Alarm Phone on Lesvos in September/October 2019

In September 2019 the Alarm Phone received a GPS-location near to the northern coast of Lesvos. The connection broke immediately; we did not have a long conversation at that time with the boat. We informed the Greek coastguard and the rescue teams on the shore. Some hours later we got in touch again with the people and they confirmed that they were safe and that they had been brought to a camp. A fortunate and quick conclusion to an Alarm Phone case. The people were all safe on land.

It was only a few days later when some of us went to Lesvos to remember and celebrate 10 years of struggles on this island with the network, Welcome to Europe[19]. We contacted the people and they agreed to meet. We met with two men, refugees from Afghanistan and had a deeper exchange about their trip and our work. They told us about the hard trip that was behind them. They had been forced to try to cross four times until they finally reached Greece. Twice they were intercepted by the Turkish coastguard and another time blocked by the Greek coastguard near Alexandroupolis. Before this year the Alarm Phone had rarely received from this area, but this year a sea route towards Samothraki or even towards the Greek mainland has become more and more established.

The family still has a difficult path in front of them. They got stuck in the hot spot of Moria or, better to say: outside of it. The camp holds 12,000 people and has an official capacity of 3,000. It was already crazily overcrowded on their arrival, with little summer-tents far up in the olive grove. The two men had travelled on the boat with several families from one neighbourhood. We decided to invite them all for dinner at the seaside to escape for a while the horrible situation in Moria. We spent a very touching evening all together. In the end we sang “no one here is illegal” together. We visited them a day later at their tents. Together with many musicians, we went up to the olive grove, singing and dancing to the rhythms of freedom in all our languages[20]. They joined the festival on Saturday and we celebrated ten years of struggles on this island[21].

Letters from Moria by a migratory girl

In the following days, we got to know Parwana, a teenage girl from Afghanistan, who had travelled on the same boat. We had a women’s dinner, along with her mother and younger sisters and four of us. We spoke about dreams, future plans and we shared a lot of our daily issues. This story continues till today. It turned out that Parwana likes to write to express herself. At first she was too nervous to write in english, but as she is a super-fast young woman she overcame this fear and within one day she started to document what she experienced in a number of “Letters from Moria”.

Parwana is unbelievably full of power and energy. One of the many women and girls we met who are in the middle of this hard journey. They are on the way to find a place where they can freely express themselves, find access to education without fear – and where they can find a position to change this world that is so full of injustice. Each one of her letters expresses this with crystal clarity. This year, more than ever before, we encountered young afghan women like Parwana. In emergency-calls to the Alarm Phone, when we ask Dari-speakers for a person on the boat who speaks English, on many occasions the phone is passed to very young women. A new generation is on their way to join the global uprisings of women, hungry for change. They are still on their way these new friends, hopefully they will finally reach Hamburg, Frankfurt, Paris or London – and we will stay in touch.

13 of Parwanas “Letters from Moria” are published on the blog of Welcome to Europe/ Infomobile. They tell about a life lived under the horrible conditions of a camp made to deter people from reaching a place of safety. She changes perspectives in each of her letters, writing from the view of an old woman who bakes bread to sell it to buy medicine for her husband, of a young boy who is afraid to lose himself, of a young woman suffering from the abuses of men all around her and she writes from the view of a transgender person.

You can read her “Letters from Moria” (No.1-13) on the blog of Welcome to Europe and soon also in a printed booklet to be published in January/February 2020:

IV. Cooperation and solidarity with other initiatives on Lesvos

Alarm Phone on mission with Mare Liberum

Mare Liberum has been present in the Aegean Sea since 2018. Alternating teams look for boats in distress. They are monitoring and documenting the situation at sea in order to save peoples’ lives.[22] Activists from the Alarm Phone took part in the missions of Mare Liberum to explore and to understand better what is happening at sea. It is shocking to observe how people in need of protection are dealt with like an enemy in a war. The coastguard’s patrol vessels and warships hunt down the small and overloaded rubber dinghies at sea. One can barely locate the little refugee boats which are lying deep in the water and, in most cases, can only be detected by the sound of their engines.[23] Increased patrols by coastguards, Frontex and NATO have not stopped people from escaping wars and trying to reach safety in Europe, but made crossing the sea even more dangerous. Furthermore, the interception and illegal returns of protection seekers to an unsafe country like Turkey is violating international law.[24]

The crew of Mare Liberum was able to observe the increased presence of Frontex and the Coastguards on both sides of the border during their mission in autumn 2019. On the night of the 11th of November, they observed Frontex and the Greek coastguards on the lookout for boats which were still in Turkish waters in order to inform the Turkish coastguards so that they could stop the boat before it reached Greek waters and pull the travellers back to Turkey. On the night of the 9th of November, the Greek coastguards offered to stop and to guard a boat until the Turkish coastguards could come to take over responsibility.[25] The authorities of Greece and Turkey, with the help of Frontex and the NATO, are preventing people in need of protection from reaching safe territory and are putting thousands of lives at further risk. The only aim is to externalise the European borders further and further to the East and to the South so as to keep refugees out.

Solidarity with Salam Aldeen!

Salam Aldeen, the founder of the NGO Team Humanity, was arrested in December 2019 on Lesvos and stayed imprisoned for 16 days without any charges being pressed. He was finally able to leave the prison on 29 December – but on the condition that he leave the island within three days and he was banned from entering Greece for two years. He was declared to be a threat to public security. On 31 December 2019 Salam Aldeen left Lesvos, after having been active since 2015 on the island. Before that he walked in the night through the olive grove, the informal camp besides Moria hot-spot stating: “This is probably my last live video from Moria camp, the authorities on this Island don’t want me and our Organization to help refugees, after 16 days in jail without any proof that I did anything wrong, they let me go only for 3 days so I can pack my things and leave, they want this people to suffer in Moria camp, this island have their own rules and the authorities do whatever they want to do without being accountable for the criminal activities they do, and by stopping me in helping pure people who surviving here only because of volunteers and organizations, the refugees will suffer more than ever, the authorities don’t want me to speak or document what is going on here so that’s why they are deporting me from Greece without any evidence or explanation that I did anything wrong.“

Salam Aldeen had been detained before. He was prosecuted during his time in a rescue team. He was finally found not guilty. For us Salam Aldeen is a person who gave with full hands. His personal background as a refugee probably made him feel the hardship the people had to go through in a different way from other activists. He rescued hundreds of people from the sea. He brought clothes and blankets when people were wet and freezing. He created a kids space near Moria, so that children could, at least for a few hours, come and play and be in a safer environment. It is not by accident that once again an activist with a refugee background himself face repression. Like many others who dedicate their lives and time to be in solidarity, Salam Aldeen can never be replaced. He is a missing heart in the struggle of people stuck on the island.[26]

Solidarity for Lighthouse Relief

The activists from Lighthouse Relief announced that the Greek authorities are going to close the transit camp Stage2 which is based in the north of Lesvos. Stage2 means that people who have just arrived on the shores near Skala Sikamnia are allowed to rest for one night. They are treated with kindness and care by activists and volunteers, before they were taken to Moria.

Read the full statement here:

Please sign the petition here and spread the word:

Photo: Salinia Stroux

V. The situation in the hotspots

Thousands of migrants are stuck in the hotspots and on the islands. They are generally placed there upon their arrival and stay until completing their asylum procedure (exceptions are the highly vulnerable and Dublin cases). The living conditions have deteriorated since the change of the Greek government on July 7, 2019. The numbers of people stuck on the islands has increased dramatically since then and anti-migratory policies have worsened the conditions instead of improving them.[27]

The situation in the hotspots has evolved into an incredible hell.[28] The tragic conditions lead to violent confrontations and fires with deadly outcomes, cases of suicide and desperate riots.[29] In January 2020 alone, two people died after knife attacks, one person committed suicide and another one’s life is in danger also after an attack with a knife. This untenable situation arises from the anti-migration policy of the Greek government and is also a direct result of the so called EU-Turkey-deal and the unwillingness of the European countries to welcome refugees. [30]

10,480 people lived in the hotspot of Moria on Lesvos on September 5, 2019. Among them 44 were held in detention and 800 were unaccompanied minors. Four months later, on January 10, 2020 the number increased to 19,166 people, of which 92 were detained and approximately 1,000 were unaccompanied minors.[31] This is despite the authorities announcing decongestion measures all through the cold winter months The situation on the hotspots on Samos and Chios is shaped by a comparable inhuman misery.[32]

The Greek government by the end of summer had announced the transfer of 20,000 people from the Islands to camps on the mainland but could not fulfil their plans due to a lack of space.[33] The new government has increased the numbers of residents in the overcrowded camps and builds more of those instead of looking for sustainable humane solutions in houses in the cities. More than that, hotspots are to be turned into closed high-security camps equipped with advanced surveillance technology. There are also discussions about the creation of closed control camps on the mainland.[34]

VI. CommemorAction: Memorials in Thermi and Korakas on Lesvos

When we came together on September 29, 2019 in the harbour of Thermi to remember the dead of the European border regime[35], we could not have known that only shortly afterwards people would again lose their lives when a fire broke out and many containers burnt down inside Moria camp. Faride Tajik, an afghan mother lost her life. Whether she died together with her child is still unclear. The Alarm Phone together with Welcome to Europe and Mare Liberum made a statement in the days afterwards.[36]

On September 24 we renewed the memorial we had set up with Welcome to Europe here when we came with little Marila and her parents in October 2010. We remembered, together with them, the night on October 27, 2009 when they had been on a boat along with Afghan women, their small children and some minors. Shortly before landing at Korakas, the boat turned over and all the people aboard fell into the sea. Yalda (8), Neda (10), Mehdi (4), Zakia, Tsima, Sonia (6), Abdulfasl (3) and Zomaya lost their lives. The baby Marila and her parents were rescued by Stratis, a brave fishermen who jumped into the water to save them. One year later they came together to meet again. And we put this memorial on the lighthouse to commemorate.[37]

Welcome to Europe published a booklet that documents 10 years collective experiences in building memorials to commemorate the people who lost their lives trying to reach Europe, seeking a life in peace and hoping to find safety. “Lost at Borders” was published in September 2019:

People continue to die at the outer borders of Europe. The following list of cases could never be complete. During Alarm Phone shifts in 2019 our teams were once again confronted with cases where ultimately help was not possible – and there were many more where we witnessed losses. All these deaths would not have happened if these people could just move freely to safety. It is a political decision to force them to take these high risk ways.

We remember and will never forget:

20.08.19 (between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia): A group of 21 travellers who try to cross the border between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, close to Banja Koviljača. One person drowns in the river Drina.


26.08.19 (Aegean hotspot): A 15-year-old dies after being stabbed in Moria hotspot.


26.08.19 (Aegean landborder): Six die and ten hurt in a car crash.


06.09.19 (Aegean Sea): One man drowns near Samos Island.


24.09.19 (Aegean hotspot): A 5-year-old dies after car accident in front of Moria.


27.09.19 (Aegean Sea): Seven drown (among them a baby and a toddler) near Oinousses.


14.10.19 (Aegean Sea): 33 people rescued by Turkish coastguard near Lesvos, one 2-months-old baby and a child is found dead under the capsized boat.

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23.10.19 (Aegean Sea): A child dies after the Greek coastguard collide with a refugee boat near Kos Island.


19.11.19 (Aegean hotspot): A nine-month old baby dies from dehydration in Lesvos hotspot.


06.12.19 (Aegean hotspot): A woman dies after a fire on Lesvos Island.


10.12.19 (Aegean landborder): Six die from exposure.


23.12.19 (between Serbia and Croatia): Six refugees drowned in the river Danube at the Serbian-Croatian border. Four adults and two children go missing when their boat capsizes in the river.

18.1.20 (Aegean Sea): Travellers stranded on Farmakonisi brought to Leros – one man loses his life, when he falls into the sea shortly before the boat reaches the island.


The year 2020 started with grief: In the first days of 2020 four shipwrecks have already occurred in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. At least 40 people lost their lives in total, while more people are still missing and are believed to have drowned.

On January 2, the Alarm Phone was alerted to a distress case in the Southern Aegean. Only a few days later, we found out that all 14 travellers on the boat drowned.[38]

On January 5, four people drowned, and one person went missing after their boat collided with a Turkish coast guard vessel off Bademli, Turkey. The boat was heading towards Lesvos.

On January 11, a boat capsized off Cesme. 11 people lost their lives in the shipwreck, among them eight children.

On the same day, January 11, another boat, which was heading towards Italy, capsized in the Ionian Sea off the Greek island of Paxi. 20 people could be rescued but 12 people lost their lives. According to Greek media there were up to 50 people on board, many of them are still missing and believed to have drowned. Relatives are still contacting us desperately because their loved ones remain missing and their bodies have not yet been found.

Our thoughts are with them – we will never forget them!

Our thoughts are also with those who are still searching and with all those who mourn their beloved ones. We will continue to commemoract and with all our strength struggle to tear down the borders that killed them.

Photo: Salinia Stroux









[8] Period referred to: 8.7.-31.12.19

[9] For an analysis of the developments within the last five years, read the following Alarmphone article:

[10] 19.6.2019-19.1.2020


[12] In the previous Aegean Regional Analysis Report (18.3.-18.6.19) four cases of push-backs from the Aegean Sea had been recorded:

[13] GCR, ARSIS & Human Rights 360 2018:;
Mobile Info Team 2019: “Illegal Push Backs in Evros Region”:;;
Hellenic League for Human Rights 2019:;;
Spiegel. Sources: (video);
See also a german summary here:;
Deutsche Welle 2020:επαναπροωθεί-η-ελλάδα-παράνομα-πρόσφυγες-στην-τουρκία/a-52078889?fbclid=IwAR3KTPwu5V3mQHAl55orIgQUAyNEPIYZii5qOCemEyHYhYERiPdbVGO7d-M;
Push-back map:;
Euronews 2019:;
Border Violence Monitoring Network:






[19] Here you find a booklet on 10 years of Welcome to Europe:







[26] Facebook Page of Team Humanity:;
Salams Aldeens speech in front of the EU parliament: