At about 1am on 24 August, Ahmed (not his actual title) climbed right into a rubber dinghy with 29 others and left Turkey’s north-western Çanakkale province. After 30 minutes, he mentioned, they reached Greek waters close to Lesbos and a panther boat from the Hellenic coastguard approached.
Eight officers in blue shorts and shirts, some sporting black masks and armed with rifles, compelled the group – greater than half girls and together with a number of minors and 6 young children – to return aboard at gunpoint. They punctured the dinghy with knives and it sank. “They mentioned they’d take us to a camp,” mentioned Ahmed. “The kids have been glad and began laughing, however I knew they have been mendacity.”
By means of the course of the night time, Ahmed, a 17-year-old refugee from Eritrea, alleges that Greek officers detained the group, confiscating possessions and denying them entry to bathrooms and consuming water. By morning, they have been dispatched right into a liferaft in Turkish waters. It was too small, and movies taken by Ahmed, who hid his cellphone, present some individuals have been compelled to swim. The Turkish coastguard confirmed it intercepted the raft at 1:20pm.
The occasion described by Ahmed, who fled battle in Eritrea after his father died, was one in all seven instances that he says he has been pushed again by the Hellenic coastguard. Using these “pushbacks” has surged since March in keeping with an investigation by the Guardian, and specialists say it has turn into an overt coverage of Greece’s rightwing New Democracy authorities, which got here to energy final yr.
Interviews with 5 victims of pushbacks, 10 NGOs working throughout the Aegean Sea together with Human Rights Watch, Josoor and the Aegean Boat Report, and a tranche of movies reviewed by the Guardian reveal an organised and systemic observe of denying entry to asylum seekers.
Subsequent week a coalition of charities together with Human Rights Watch and the Border Violence Monitoring Community will publish an open letter condemning the observe of pushbacks and calling for the Greek authorities and the European Fee to take motion towards these concerned. A draft of the letter seen by the Guardian requires “disciplinary and prison sanctions” to be introduced towards these “discovered to have engaged in such unlawful acts”.
Worldwide legislation specialists say these actions are in breach of worldwide legislation together with the conference regarding the standing of refugees and the European conference on human rights. “What you might be seeing is the unlawful collective expulsion of refugees from Greek territory,” mentioned Satvinder Juss, a professor of human rights and worldwide refugee legislation at King’s School London. “It’s a disaster for human rights.”
Usually pushbacks contain groups of unidentified males in black uniforms who intercept boats of refugees which have arrived in Greek waters and forcibly return them to Turkish waters, both leaving them to float after engines have been destroyed or in separate liferafts. In some circumstances, victims have arrived on Greek land earlier than being returned by authorities to the open seas, after actively threatening them with beatings, gunshots and by creating massive waves with quick boats. In a single case, refugees have been left on a tiny island between Greece and Turkey for 2 days with out meals earlier than being rescued.
AlarmCellphone, an NGO that operates a phone line and social media community for refugees in misery, mentioned it noticed a considerable improve in experiences of pushbacks because the pandemic, recording 55 circumstances between March and August. The Greek Helsinki Monitor mentioned it submitted a report back to the supreme courtroom, naval courtroom and army appeals courtroom of Greece claiming practically 1,400 individuals have been pushed again between March and July, although the true quantity is believed to be far greater.
Minos Mouzourakis, authorized officer at Refugee Assist Aegean, is at present engaged on landmark authorized circumstances on the European courtroom of human rights that date again to 2014, when eight Afghan kids and three girls died after their vessel sank close to the island of Farmakonisi throughout a reported pushback. “This can be a regrettable resurgence of these older techniques,” mentioned Mouzourakis.
In December 2019, Greece mentioned it was predicting as much as 100,000 asylum seekers to reach on its islands from Turkey in 2020. However as of 31 August, there have been eight,860 sea arrivals, in keeping with UNHCR. Stella Nanou, the company’s Greek consultant, acknowledged the “credible accounts” of pushbacks and referred to as on Greece to “assure and safeguard the rights of these searching for worldwide safety”.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister, has taken a number of official steps to make sure fewer refugees arrive, briefly suspending the precise to asylum, shortening the deadline for attraction in asylum circumstances, extending fences alongside the land border with Turkey and is contemplating putting in floating limitations at sea. However the authorities has described accusations of unlawful pushbacks as “faux information” from unreliable sources.
“Pushbacks are inherently violent, not solely bodily however mentally,” mentioned Amelia Cooper, advocacy and communications officer for Lesbos Authorized Centre, which is documenting pushbacks and offering authorized help to survivors. “Survivors are conscious that these expulsions, and the abuses that they entail, are constitutive of each the European border and the EU’s political context with Turkey.”
When contacted, the ministry of maritime affairs and insular coverage mentioned its operations have been in accordance with worldwide legislation and that the company has been topic to “systematic concentrating on by a portion of the mainstream media, NGOs and different social networking platforms, which have a tendency to advertise the related actions in a single dimensional and fragmentary method”.
However paperwork seen by the Guardian reveal a German navy provide vessel referred to as the Berlin, which heads Nato’s Standing Maritime Group 2 within the Aegean area, noticed a ship with refugees being compelled into Turkish sea territory by Greek authorities on 19 June and 15 August. The findings got here in response to parliamentary questions by Left get together MP Andrej Hunko.
After being detained in Turkey, Ahmed was launched and has since slept in a park within the metropolis of İzmir. “I don’t care if I die,” he mentioned. “I don’t have a alternative to return. However I’m shedding hope.”