New images prove that Greece is carrying out collective and illegal returns of migrants on its maritime border with Turkey. Although the government of Athens strongly denies these practices, the Norwegian NGO Aegean Boat Report has published a video in which the Hellenic Coast Guard harass a boat to prevent it from passing off the Greek island of Kos. A similar situation occurred in the central Mediterranean, where the Libyan Coast Guard chased and fired at a boat with at least 20 people on board on Wednesday.
The expulsion in the Aegean Sea took place on June 10 but became known on Thursday with the broadcast of the recording of more than 20 minutes which would show how several Greek coastguard vessels block the passage of a zodiac with 31 people in Greek waters. A few hours later, they were rescued off the Turkish coast.
Footage shows how the heavily armed coastguard surrounds them with three boats, causing waves to rock the boat and terrify the migrants. Additionally, the video shows a guard making a derogatory gesture towards people on the boat and an officer ordering his colleagues to comply with the rules when he realizes they are being taped.
“It’s disturbing that this has to be said. What would have happened if this person hadn’t had the courage and the technology to film?” Asked the NGO while pointing out the hypocrisy of the official asking that the law is obeyed. while he and his colleagues violate the rights of migrants.
The Greek government and Frontex consider that this type of action is not an illegal return but rather an “entry ban”
The Greek government and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) consider that these types of actions are not illegal returns but a “barrier of entry”. However, for Aegean Boat Report, being in Greek waters means having entered the country and it must be guaranteed that these people apply for asylum if they wish.
The humanitarian organization recalls that according to international law, “no country is authorized to ‘prevent the entry’ of men, women and children who are not suspected of any crime, and these people are not not”. Therefore, for this NGO (like many others dedicated to rescuing migrants at sea), it would be an illegal expulsion.
Moreover, the NGO insists that if this had happened in international waters, the right to seek asylum would continue to be violated by forcing people to return to Turkey by force.
Harassment and shooting at sea
These practices are not limited to the actions of Greek officials. A suspected Libyan Coast Guard vessel staged a similar, if more dangerous, scene on Wednesday as the vessel harassed and even fired at a small blue wooden boat with at least 20 migrants on board in the search area and rescue workers from Malta as they attempted to reach Europe, according to the German NGO Sea Watch.
The entity recorded the harrowing chase from its plane as it flew over the area on an observation mission. “Those who shoot at refugees and try to capsize their boats are not there to save them. The European Union (EU) must immediately end its cooperation with the so-called Libyan Coast Guard,” said Sea Watch Air Operations Chief Felix Weiss.
In the footage, the so-called Libyan Coast Guard can be seen circling the small boat, sometimes making approaches so daring they look like they are about to crash. Additionally, you can see and hear projectiles and fired objects. The bullets hit the water, near the boat.
Under the eye of the sky, Sea Watch also called on the Libyan authorities by radio to end the pursuit. According to the NGO, the Libyan Coast Guard responded in English that they were trying to rescue the migrants.
The Sea Watch aircraft had to turn back before the end of the action due to lack of fuel. But he later reported that the ship had reached the Italian island of Lampedusa on Thursday morning. News agencies that attempted to contact Libyan, Maltese or Italian authorities received no response on the incident.
The EU trains, equips and supports the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept people trying to cross the central Mediterranean to Europe. In fact, according to Sea Watch, the vessel involved in the bullying is a Ras Jadir vessel donated by Italy to the North African country in May 2017.
The two videos testify to an intensive practice. In the case of Greece, there have been more than almost 500 incidents (17 in the last week) which have suffered in the Aegean Sea around 14,720 men, women and children since March 2020, as documented by the NGO. It is intimidation carried out by “coast guards armed with assault rifles, (…) against innocent, unarmed and peaceful men, women and children who try to find safe places to live. “, deplores the Norwegian entity.
That same week, several Greek media echoed news of Guardian which told the story of a Palestinian woman and her three children, the only ones who were able to escape a hot comeback after arriving on the island of Samos and hiding in the mountains.
In May, the Council of Europe urged Greece to end illegal collective returns of migrants
Since Turkey paralyzed legal returns with the start of the pandemic, dozens of international organizations have denounced that the returns forced by the Greek authorities have multiplied.
In May, the Council of Europe urged Greece to put an end to the collective and illegal returns of migrants at the sea and land borders with Turkey, practices which the Athens government strongly denies.
As for the Central Mediterranean route, between Libya and Italy, this is not the first time that reckless actions by the Libyan Coast Guard have been known. On one occasion, officers boarded a boat full of people, fired into the air and stole their belongings. More than 60 people jumped into the water in panic. Harassment has also taken place against maritime rescue NGOs such as the Catalan Open Arms, which has been threatened by Libyan officials with gunfire in the air to prevent it from crossing Libyan territorial waters.