Ibrahim has been living in Germany for seven years, while members of his family had been there for 14 years. He had suffered a lot in Syria and was granted international protection in Germany. With his papers, he is allowed to travel anywhere in Europe. So, when a family member arrived in Greece, Ibrahim immediately flew there to see him. They had not seen each other for a long time, ever since he had fled Syria. Ibrahim and Murad* met in the city of Alexandroupolis in the Evros region of Northern Greece. While trying to buy some food in the streets of Alexandroupolis, they were stopped by police officers, who confiscated Ibrahim’s German residence permit without handing out a receipt. He never saw his papers again. Ibrahim and Murad were both taken and detained near the Evros/Meriç river, which marks the border between Greece and Turkey. They were detained in that place for 24 hours before getting pushed back, incommunicado, without being informed about the reasons for their detention, and without access to any information or a lawyer. No food was provided to them, just a small bottle of water. Throughout the night, more men from different countries were brought there. In the end, Ibrahim counted 52 people in total.
In the evening of the following day, they were taken to the Evros river on board a military truck. The group was accompanied by five law enforcement officers dressed in black, and with their faces covered with full-face masks. The officers forced them on board a small rubber dinghy, 10 people at a time. They then drove the dinghy close to the Turkish shore. Approximately 50 meters away from shore, they forced the people into the water and from there they had to swim to land. Back in Turkey, they walked until they were detected by officers of the Turkish Gendarmerie, who asked them what had happened and lit a fire for them to dry their clothes. The Turkish officers then called taxis for them and they all ended up in Istanbul.
In Istanbul, Ibrahim registered for an appointment with the Germany embassy in order to get his documents reissued so he could legally return to Germany. He did not receive an appointment for several months though. Other people told him that it would take more than a year to finally get an appointment. In desperation, Ibrahim then decided to take the dangerous route by boat from Turkey to Italy, hoping to finally find a way back home to Germany.
His journey ended in the shipwreck off the coast of Paros. While Europe was getting ready for Christmas on December 24th, a boat with 79 people on board, among them Ibrahim, sank off the coasts of Paros. Alarm Phone established contact with the travellers only when they were already in the water. 63 people were eventually rescued with the death toll rising to 16 the following day. It was the last of four shipwrecks on the route between Turkey and Italy in the last days of December.
Almost every day since the shipwrecks, bodies are being washed ashore on the coasts of Greek Aegean islands. Until now, a total of 28 bodies were recovered from the shipwrecks near Paros and Folegandros. Many relatives are still looking for their loved ones without appropriate support from the Greek authorities.
Alarm Phone stayed in contact with several survivors. The survivors from Paros were taken to the mainland after three days. Instead of receiving help to deal with their traumatic experience, they were detained in Amygdaleza’s Pre-Removal Centre.
Eventually, when a lawyer managed to contact them, a report was submitted to the Greek Ombudsman, to Frontex (Complaint Mechanism), and to the German Embassy in Athens.
Despite these efforts, Ibrahim is still in detention and deprived of the possibility to safely and legally return to Germany, where he had been living for several years. He survived a shipwreck, he saw people drowning, and now he is held in a prison cell together with many other survivors.
The story of Ibrahim showcases how the pushback regime of the Greek authorities forces people to undertake even more dangerous routes. These routes directly result in a higher death toll in the Eastern Mediterranean. This case not only shows how people’s fundamental rights are violated in Greece, but also how countries like Germany fail to protect and support recognised refugees like Ibrahim and how masses of people are imprisoned instead of being welcomed and supported. No person in a similar situation should ever be left without medical treatment and psychological support. Not Ibrahim, not anybody else.
He should be issued travel documents immediately so that he can return safely and legally to his home and to his family in Germany.
*The names have been changed