Ongoing Violent Pushbacks both at Sea and on Land

Last week, the Frontex management board met with EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson in Brussels. Meanwhile, the European migration regime continued to show its violent and deadly face on every migration route in the Mediterranean. In this summary, we will focus on 5 cases in the Aegean region. We document the illegal pushback of hundreds of people from Greece to Turkey.

The Alarm Phone was alerted to these 5 distress cases in just five days. All of the cases ended with pushbacks. Approximately 250 people suffered a severe violation of their fundamental human rights. The people concerned informed us of the serious injuries inflicted upon them as a result of violence carried out by Greek state agents. They reported that Greek border guards robbed them of their belongings: money, phones and even food. We heard that they went as far as to throw people into the river Evros. Frontex’ claim that no human rights violations are perpetrated is a cynical, barefaced lie. It fails to acknowledge the crimes of its partners: the Greek border and coast guards.

These stories are not new. Proof that they are true has emerged several times in the past. We believe the people, and we are certain that Frontex knows about these crimes. Their feigned ignorance makes them complicit. We condemn the daily attacks on people in transit and we will continue to stand with them until freedom of movement is granted for all.

Case Summaries

On Monday, November 9, the Alarm Phone was alerted to a distress case near the Greek island of Milos. A big sailing boat of about 22m was carrying approximately 60 people fleeing from Turkey towards Italy. The last known position, from 09:00 CET, was off the coast of the small Greek island of Antimilos (position: 36.825730, 24.231551). When we called the Greek Coast Guard at 10:15 CET, they informed us that they already knew about the boat and that they were trying to help. At 11:26 CET, we received and published a video showing a small boat of the Hellenic Coast Guard towing the sailing boat along the coast of the island. An expert from Forensic Architecture confirmed that the island in the background was Antimilos by matching it with resources available online. We asked the Hellenic Coast Guard where they were taking the travelers, but they refused to give any information. They simply repeated, “everything ok”. Since then, we have not been able to reestablish contact with the people from this boat. On November 13, however, the Turkish Coast Guard published news about the rescue of 70 people from a sailing boat off the coast from the province of Izmir (Seferihisar district). According to the information on the website the rescue was conducted on November 12 at 21:30 (prob. UTC+3). An additional picture published on the website shows details that match those in the video the Alarm Phone had received: a white mast, a blue roof tarp, yellow life jackets, and the clothing of the people on the sailing boat. It nevertheless beggars belief that the Hellenic Coast Guard would perform a highly dangerous tow-back of the sailing boat all the way to Turkish waters. We are still investigating what happened to the people.

On the same day, November 9, we received information about 60-70 people who were stranded on a little islet on Evros river, the land border between Turkey and Greece (position: 41.320000, 26.492083). We were informed that they had previously been detained for a day by Greek border guards, been heavily beaten, and then been forced onto the islet and dumped there without food or water. The people told us that border guards from Turkey and Greece blocked the way on both sides, which made it impossible for them to move to either direction. The Turkish authorities repeatedly told us on the phone, that they cannot intervene, as the islet was on Greek soil. The Greek authorities also refused to act. Two days later, the people were still stranded on the island. In a video they shared with the Alarm Phone, they said: “they shot at us and we are waiting here with no food for 4 days.” On Friday morning we learned that the group was brought back to Turkey. They were first taken to Greece, had to spend some hours locked up in a cell, and were then brought to Turkey via the official border crossing in Edirne. People from the group informed us that Greek officers had taken all their belongings – money, food, phones – and severely beaten them.

On Thursday, November 12, we received another distress call from the Evros region. 50 people were calling us from the village of Tychero. They were afraid, as Greek border guards had stolen their phones and told them that they would soon be pushed back to Turkey. Upon investigating the location they shared with us (41.03586959838867, 26.291399002075195 at 10:00 CET) on Google maps, we found that it was the Tychero Border Guard Station itself, a location which appears in reports of previous pushbacks available online. However, when we called the station, the officers on duty told us that they did not know anything about the group. Soon afterwards, we lost contact to the people. Around 19:00 CET, relatives informed us that the group had been pushed back to Turkey and were at Edirne bus station on their way back to Istanbul. We examined footage the people shared from the place they were detained and found similarities to previous visualization of the Border Guard station in Tychero by Forensic Architecture.

To see the videos we received from inside the Tychero Border Guard station, click here.

In the morning of Friday, November 13, 50 people called for help. When we established contact with them again, they had already been pushed back by Greek border guards. They were forced on a small islet on Evros river close to Edirne. They also reported the theft of their money and phones, and, in the now familiar pattern, they told us of beatings inflicted on them by Greek officers. Two people are reported missing from the group. We are still trying to find out what exactly happened to them.

On the same day, November 13, a group of 35 people who arrived in Samos by boat were stranded in the woods on the island and called for help. Their position (37.648111, 26.867222) shows that they were on Samos. The next day, Saturday, we learned that the people had been pushed back from Samos to Turkey. They told us that they had been forced into a small boat by the Hellenic Coast Guard after their operatives had stolen their money and their phones. The people were eventually picked up by the Turkish Coast Guard and brought back to Turkey.

We will continue with the investigation and documentation of these five cases. These examples once again demonstrate how ruthlessly Greek border guards deal with people on the move. This is happening while Europe is not only watching, but actively working towards a political climate that enables and supports human rights violations at its outer borders.

Playlist of footage from inside the Tychero Border Guard station