Last week we published a report about a group who had been stuck at the land border between Türkiye and Greece since July 13th. One week later, we are still in contact with the group who tell us of violence, imprisonment, and further push backs to Türkiye in spite of the outstanding Interim Measures. The Interim Measures were granted on August 2nd from the European Court of Human Rights, and ordered the Greek state to provide them with assistance. The group have now been stuck in this torturous situation for over four weeks and we wish to share their words with you as we continue to stand by them and witness the horrors they are subject to at the hands of the brutal European border regime.
Last Monday, on August 7th, the group told how they had “become a football between Greek and Turkish army.”, after being brutally pushed back for the third time despite ongoing medical emergencies and an urgent need for rescue. They were back on a small islet near the village of Lagyna on Greek territory in the middle of the Evros river bordering Greece and Türkiye. The group reported being able to see both Greek and Turkish forces watching them from the islet shouting at them, with drones overhead at times, and patrolling cars on the Greek side.
Meanwhile, no matter how many times we emailed or called Greek authorities, they maintained their far-fetched line that they could not find the group. Apparently, no matter how hard they search, or what advanced technological equipment they have to hand, their eyes remained shut to the pain and suffering this group were undergoing.
That day, on August 7th, the group told us how they remained without food or water and sent videos of injured people and traumatised children who had become victim to the cruel game of the Evros border. At this point, they told us ten people were missing from their group after having been beaten severely before the last push back. They described how they feared for the lives of the missing and also for the lives of those left stranded once more on the islet, and sent us videos describing their suffering. In the videos they told us:
“Date today is 07/08, this is the Syrian group. The water for the children is finished and we are suffering with the heat. We don’t have food to give to the children. We are really afraid. This woman is pregnant as well. These are the children, they’ve been surviving eating leaves from the trees. This man is suffering from heart-related illness. Please help us.”
During this time, and over the next days, the group continued to call 112 themselves and ask for urgent medical care and assistance. They were repeatedly told the police would come to find them. Alongside this, we sent repeated urgent updates to Greek authorities to remind them of the people’s situation, the ECHR decision, and their duty to rescue and provide assistance. All our calls for rescue went ignored.
On August 9th, the group told us they saw a patrolling car on the Greek side of the river again, and men cutting down trees. They told us how they called for help and how the men “looked but laughed”. On the same day, the lawyer from Rule39 initiative sent an update to the ECHR regarding the Interim Measures, along with evidence of the people having crossed to the Greek side of the riverbank and then once again being back at the islet location. The court answered and gave an extension to the current Interim Measures, as well as reminding the Greek state of their obligations to provide assistance to the group. However, the Greek state responded that they had had acted “promptly and efficiently”, conducting extensive searches, along with Frontex and the Turkish authorities, yet could not find the group, suggesting that the groups’ location on Greek territory could thus not be verified. This implausible story goes against all GPS, photographic and video evidence provided to the court which had led to the granting of Interim Measures in the first instance.
That night, the group told us they were slowly dying.
The next day, on August 10th, they sent us photos of two men in what look like camouflage uniforms in a field across from them, they were staring at the group. Still, the Greek authorities maintained their line that the group were nowhere to be found, and officers at Soufli and Alexandroupolis told us that there was no ongoing search operation for the group.
In the late afternoon of August 11th, the group sent us videos and updates telling us how they had once more managed to cross the river by foot and were back on the Greek side of the riverbank. Again, we highlight that this is an extremely dangerous undertaking, and that crossing the river like this causes many deaths each year due to the strong undercurrents that can drown people. Once again, thankfully, the group managed to cross safely. Shortly after they crossed, the group told us at 17.17 CEST, that they were again in the hands of the police. They sent us a location showing them to be in Soufli, and told us how they had been beaten by the police.
We were informed that the group of people we were in touch with since 21 July 2023 is now with the Greek police. Our messages do not reach the people anymore. We fear that they will be pushed back and attacked again. #StopPushbacks!
— Alarm Phone (@alarm_phone) August 11, 2023
Meanwhile, officers at Soufli border guard station told us they did not know where the people are and that they had sent Frontex to the location we had given them. We continued to send email updates to Greek authorities, naming two children who were listed in the Interim Measures and who the group had told us were facing medical emergencies due to dehydration and poisoning from river water. We asked for an urgent update. Once again, no update was given, and our emails remained unanswered. This continued throughout the course of the weekend, with the group updating us when they could, telling us of the dire state the children were in, with limited water, vomiting, dehydration, and fainting. They told us of beatings and violence and ongoing desperation and shock at their mistreatment. They informed us their fingerprints had not been taken and their wish to claim asylum not granted. They told us how the group had been split up, and they were once again left fearing for the lives of their missing friends.
They asked for help again and again, and again and again we asked for updates by phone and email from the Greek authorities and officers at Soufli, but to no avail. Many calls went unanswered, and those that were answered were shut down by officers feigning ignorance at the groups’ whereabouts.
On Sunday afternoon, August 13th, after two days of being in the hands of Greek police, the group reached out to us and reported how they had once again been pushed back to Türkiye and that some amongst them had died. They report that there was a mass push back of hundreds of people, not only them, and that they are now around 200 people on an Evros islet, still desperately in need of help. They shared the following testimonies with us, which they want to be shared so that people know the depths of brutalisation and torture they have been subject to:
“They took us to a prison… They put us in one of the prison rooms. Then some people were taken out and the beating started. All of this happened and we say we want a hospital. The police and the mercenaries laugh. Children are screaming in pain. They didn’t give us any food we were drinking water from toilet water… they are beating us every once in a while.
We have no food at all, nothing, absolutely nothing. Some are naked here, the children are plagued by the insects… They crammed 200 people into a truck, which then threw us from right to left, the people suffocated. When we opened the door of the truck, two had died, they made us walk over the corpses. 198 people stepped over the corpses. They threw the bodies into the water… People have died.
They beat us until their sticks were broken, they beat us in the ugliest way. We have people with broken legs and hands. There are pregnant women. There are many different nationalities here. The Greeks want to kill us with silence. The Greeks want to make a mass grave out of us.”
For over a month now, this group has been subject to beatings, attacks, sexual violence, and multiple push backs. They tell us of missing friends, of people who have died, and others who linger at the edge of life and death. They have been left for weeks without rescue, without the urgent medical care they need, starved, driven to drink river water which they report has poisoned them, making many of them sick, and subject to the slow and brutalising torture of being pawns in a sick political game between Greece and Türkiye. They are traumatised and injured, yet remain strong in the face of unimaginable violence. We continue to stand with them in solidarity, to listen to their cries for help, and as witness to the deadly cruelty they face.
Another chapter in this brutal and neverending saga: the people were pushed back again!! They were imprisoned for several days in the #Soufli borderguard station & denied access to health care, food & water. From there they were pushed back together with other groups.
— Alarm Phone (@alarm_phone) August 14, 2023
Their case demonstrates the depths of brutality the European border regime relies upon to function. This case is not an accident, it is not a one off, it is exemplary of the violence that underpins Europe’s racist borders. How else can it be that European states remain free to disregard orders from the ECHR without consequence?
We repeat our questions which remain unanswered: what has happened to the missing? Who is responsible for the brutal attacks and the sexual violence? And what is the role of Frontex in this whole story? How can orders of the European Court of Human Rights just be ignored? And why has help been repeatedly denied for people who are in urgent need of it?