Europe’s ‘shield’: Pushback of handcuffed person on a rubber boat

A video shared by people on the move shows how a handcuffed person is pushed back by masked men on a rubber boat in the Evros/Meriç region. It is yet another piece of evidence that demonstrates the brutality with which Greek forces act against people on the move.

Map: Google maps with position added by Alarm Phone

On Monday, 12 June 2023, at 14:25 CEST, Alarm Phone was alerted to a group of approximately 33 people who were stranded on an islet in the Evros/Meriç river, between Lavara and Amorio. At 15:17 CEST, we receive the following position directly by the people in distress: N 41°16’23.5″, E 26°25’43.4″.

They stated that they were desperate and required support as they feared violent attacks and pushbacks by Greek forces. They said:

«We are 33 people with children and women, and we are of Syrian and Palestinian nationality, and with us are Kurds and Turks. We are stuck for 5 days on an island in the middle of the Evros/Meriç River, and we are afraid that we will be returned to Syria. Because there are people of Turkish nationality with us who are seeking political asylum. We didn’t have a lot of food left with water, we don’t have water with us, there is a pregnant woman and his health is bad, there is no milk, no children, we are slowly dying.»

A short time later, we received two videos that reportedly to show in great clarity how pushbacks in the Evros/Meriç region are being carried out. One video, filmed from someone hiding, shows a boat with masked men moving along the river. Another video shows further details: A masked man is moving a handcuffed and an apparently unwell person onto a rubber boat, steered by another masked man. The person is moved toward the islet, where the group that had reached out to Alarm Phone was hiding. The group confirmed to us that the handcuffed person was their co-traveller and had crossed into Greece himself, was then caught on Greek territory and subsequently, as one can see on the video, violently pushed back onto the islet in the Evros/Meriç river.

This is yet another piece of evidence, filmed by brave people on the move, that shows why people might try to avoid Greek authorities at any risk: Because it is life-threatening for them to encounter Greek forces. This is how the European migration policy materialises at the external border: these brutal attacks against people are precisely what Ursula von der Leyen meant when referring to Greece as «Europe’s shield» during a visit in the region.

In Greece, such practices are systematic – on water and land. Because of such images, stories and experiences, journeys become ever more dangerous: people are forced to take longer routes, hide, or try to circumvent Greece. With tragic and fatal consequences. This is why even people in severe distress situations may not want to be rescued to Greece. Because they fear the violence, which many of them have already experienced.

Once again, the Greek state will claim that this incident did not happen. And once again, Greek authorities will get away with it.

This video is important for many reasons: large parts of the Evros/Meriç border region are highly militarized and access is limited, which means that Greek forces can often act in impunity, without witnesses except the ones they attack. Attackers steal mobile phones during pushbacks to Turkey, trying to invisibilise their crimes. The video shows the brutality of the pushback regime in the Evros/Meriç region: people are beaten, often suffer from mass-imprisonment and are attacked in a systematic way that can only be described as torture on European soil. Moreover: the video and the testimony were filmed and told by the ones most affected – with the clear desire to spread it widely, to draw attention to these atrocities. We publish this video without knowing what happened to the people afterwards.

When we still had contact, the people themselves described the scenario as such:

The boat of the Greek army arrested those who tried to cross to the Greek bank. And they beat brutally. They put handcuffs on and started beating. There were cruel scenes. And they threw people into the water.”

The group was hiding, because they feared another attack by Greek forces. And they were hiding, because they feared being pushed back to Türkiye, the place they tried to escape from.

We will be deported to Syria. Because I was deported before to Syria. And there are people of Turkish nationality with us who are asking for political asylum because they have special reasons”.

They underlined that the people are politically persecuted, as they oppose the Erdogan regime – also a journalist was reportedly among them:

If they are returned to Turkey, they will be thrown into prison. Because they are opposition people, and one of the people says that he is a journalist working for a newspaper opposed to the regime in Turkey, and that he was imprisoned before this time

Despite this risk and the brutal experience with Greek forces in the past, they alerted the authorities about their distress, as they saw no other solution to get out of their predicament. The people themselves and also the Alarm Phone informed local authorities as well as the local Red Cross, as they had helped with evacuations from islets in the past months. However, the Red Cross clearly stated that they could not act without being explicitly called by authorities. Which they were in this case obviously not.

During the next day, on June 13, we called various border guard stations, local police and the Regional Centre for Integrated Border Management. However, either nobody picked up or authorities refused to share any information with us. On Tuesday evening, we established for a last time contact with one of the people of the group. After that, we could not reach them anymore.

We fear the worst: we fear they again fell into the hands of Greek forces, who most likely once again attacked them, tortured them and pushed them back to Turkey. A place where some people fear persecution and others deportation.

When in contact with Alarm Phone, the group asked us to expose the crimes they experienced, that are committed by Greek forces and in the name of the EU. Wherever they are: we wish them strength and health, and we hope they are somewhere safe.

To the Greek authorities and European politicians who are responsible for these attacks, we say: we will not be silenced and continue to expose and fight against your border crimes. We will continue to stand on the side with those on the move and those who struggle for freedom of movement for all. And to everybody standing on the sidelines, without intervening, we can only repeat what we already mentioned in our «bordercrimes» report: “nobody can ever say, they did not know”.