Pushback off the coast of Crete – NATO and Frontex watching on the sideline

At the end of March 2023, 59 people on a sailing yacht were in distress near the Greek island of Crete. Despite documentation, media reporting and interventions by Alarm Phone and others, the Hellenic Coast Guard pushed the people back to Türkiye. Once again, Nato and Frontex were informed about the distress but failed to provide help and to prevent the illegal pushback.

Position of boat at 12:49 CET, 25 March 2023. Map: Leaflet, position added by Alarm Phone.

In the early afternoon on March 25 2023, the Alarm Phone received information about a sailing boat carrying around 60 people. As we found out later, they had departed from Antalya, Türkiye, in the direction of Italy, but off the coast of Crete, their engine broke and they could not continue their journey. At 13:32 CET, Alarm Phone informed Greek authorities as well as Frontex and Nato about the boat in distress. At the time, the boat was only a few miles from the coast of Crete (position: 34°52’40.6″N, 24° 36’42.0″E @ 12:49 CET 25 March 2023), where not only the Hellenic Coast Guard, but also Frontex and Nato have assets deployed. Only a few minutes later, Frontex replied by mail, acknowledging its reception, saying they “relayed the message to the Greek authorities”. At 15:00 CET, Alarm Phone called JRCC Piraeus whose operatives told us they will rescue the people. This turned out to be a lie.

Hellenic Coast Guard on scene, but not intervening

Already at that time, the Hellenic Coast Guard was present at the location with a small boat, as a passenger video proves. Alarm Phone published the footage on social media:

At 16:43 CET, relatives inform us that according to the people, the Hellenic Coast Guard is towing the boat to an unknown direction. At another call around 17:00 CET, JRCC Piraeus claims again to coordinate a search and rescue operation. At 17:52 CET, we also send a list of names and birth dates to all authorities, underlining the people’s wish to apply for asylum. We also ask the Hellenic Coast Guard where they bring the people. In addition to that, the people reported being at sea for already 7 days.

We continue to call JRCC Piraeus but they refuse to share any information with us. Around 19:00  CET, the people tell us that the Hellenic Coast Guard towed the boat closer to the island and that “police boats” are circling them. Based on prior experience, our teams begin to worry that this may be a preparatory operation for another illegal and brutal pushback. At 20:53 CET, we publish another tweet about the situation:

Overnight, we lose contact with the people. When asking JRCC Piraeus on their whereabouts next morning, an officer again refuses to give any information on the situation. In the meantime, local media reported the distress. However, as it turned out next morning, the Hellenic Coast Guard pushed the people back despite local media reporting on the situation and different groups who were closely following the distress in direct exchange with the people on the boat. At 10:47 CEST on March 27, the Turkish Coast Guard told us that they rescued 59 people on Sunday night. They confirmed the people were pushed back by the Hellenic Coast Guard and abandoned adrift at sea in 3 life rafts. Later, we were able to compare footage from the rescue with footage the people had sent us and matched some of the passengers.

Fight the normalisation of violence

This was another illegal pushback, literally happening in plain sight near the coast. The Hellenic Coast Guard pushed the people back, at the doorstep of Nato and Frontex, who both were informed. It shows once again how the Hellenic Coast Guard and their superiors act with complete impunity. We should not forget: every single pushback is not only a violation of international law, but above all, a brutal attack against the lives and rights of people on the move.

Striking to us is the fact that these human rights violations happen so openly, being well-documented by different actors. And that afterwards, there are no consequences for the perpetrators of these crimes.

Alarm Phone together with people on the move and many other actors will continue to fight against the normalization of violence, against the escalation of attacks against people on the move, and the silent complicity by large parts of the European public and the political sphere.



* We use in this report two time formats: CET and CEST. The time changed from CET to CEST in the early morning of Sunday, March 26 and, therefore, this case spanned over two different time zones


Other links:

Detailed report by Aegean Boat Report: https://aegeanboatreport.com/2023/03/27/59-people-pushed-back-from-crete/

Report by EFSYN on the pushback: https://www.efsyn.gr/efkriti/koinonia/383665_epanaproothithikan-stin-toyrkia-oi-59-prosfyges-poy-eihan-entopistei-stin

Article by EFSYN on the distress before the pushback: https://www.efsyn.gr/efkriti/koinonia/383390_anisyhia-gia-tin-tyhi-prosfygon-notia-tis-kritis