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Refugee pushbacks at Greece’s borders continued unabated last year, new report finds

Mare Liberum publishes harrowing testimonies from refugees in its Pushback Report 2021

THE illegal practice of forcibly returning refugees across borders, known as pushback, continued unabated in Greece last year, an independent human rights organisation says in a report published today.

The report, by Mare Liberum, a charity that monitors the Greek coastguard’s treatment of refugees in the Aegean Sea, contains testimonies from some of those who say they were beaten, tortured and abused by Greek coastguard personnel and others who were forced onto life rafts and abandoned at sea.

“They strip-searched us naked in the forest…,” one of the testimonies says.

“You undress and they searched your private parts, including your inners. The same method applied to everybody, including the pregnant woman.”

In another witness account, a refugee tells Mare Liberum that the Greek police arrested and tortured their friend after they had survived the crossing.

“They [tied] something around his neck and threw him into the water,” the allegation reads.

“Another friend, they broke his leg. They trampled his hand. They put him in a terrible state. We don’t know whether we are going to stay or they will bring us to another place, they haven’t given us any information.”

The police were apparently trying to find out who plighted their boat, so they could charge them with human trafficking.

Last year the Turkish coastguard conducted 18 rescues in the Aegean of small groups of people who had been thrown into the sea, reportedly by their Greek counterparts, the report says.

The repot has one example of this in a testimony provided last year to Josoor, a fellow independent human rights group based in Turkey.

The respondent was taken out to sea by the Greek authorities until they reached an uninhabited island. Then, “uniformed men… cut the zip ties off the Somalis and Palestinian and handed them each a life jacket and ordered them to put them on.

“Then, they reportedly threw them into the sea about 100 metres from the island. ‘None of us could swim’, proclaims the respondent. ‘We were crying and swimming and crying and swimming’.

“They eventually reached the island which was uninhabited. ‘There was nothing, not even trees!’.

“The respondent states that for three days, the four men were stranded on this small island. ‘We were so hungry and thirsty, we drank water from the sea and ate twigs of bushes’.”

Mare Liberum warns that, despite international criticism of the Greek state’s alleged used of pushbacks, there appears to be “no end to this illegal practice.”

Saskia Berger, a Mare Liberum member and one of the authors of the report, said: “As long as the EU does not make real efforts to investigate, sanction and prevent these human rights violations, Greece urgently needs an independent monitoring mechanism at its borders.

“In the end, safe flight routes are the only way to prevent the violence and deaths in the Aegean Sea, the central Mediterranean and at all the other EU external borders.”

The full report can be read here:

Meanwhile, the distress hotline organisation Alarm Phone warned of two boats, carrying about 25 and 35 people respectively, in distress near the island of Samos.

Both boats told Alarm Phone that the Greek coastguards had removed their engines and left them floating. The first boat was taking on water this morning, while the other could see the Turkish coastguards in the distance.

Top image shows refugees adrift in the Aegean Sea in life rafts

Published by The Civil Fleet

A news blog and podcast focused on the activist-led refugee rescue and support missions across Fortress Europe

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