THE AEGEAN SEA, on board a Turkish Coast Guard Command patrol boat — It’s inconceivable to tell apart the water from the sky within the black depth of evening. With a storm approaching, two little black boats full of hopes and goals, bobbing round, stay invisible within the darkness, till horrified faces emerge beneath the coast guard’s highly effective gentle. An aged lady appears to be like like her life has simply flashed earlier than her eyes; the younger kids have that haunting thousand-yard stare.
This is how 20 individuals from Afghanistan have been discovered — helplessly drifting with out an engine, a lightweight or life jackets, in two flimsy rubber life rafts within the northern Aegean waters. Thermal imaging had helped find them after an electronic mail from the Hellenic Coast Guard of Greece was despatched to the Turkish capital of Ankara, informing them about “two boats NOT UNDER COMMAND … with numerous persons on board” in Turkish waters, southeast of the island of Lesvos, Greece.
According to these on board, nonetheless, that they had landed on Lesvos a number of hours prior and hidden within the forest earlier than being caught by Greek authorities. The migrants mentioned they have been then taken again out to sea and put within the rafts, drifting simply over the waves and into Turkish territorial waters.
Clandestine border crossings on rubber dinghies are a daily phenomenon within the Aegean. However, the variety of individuals saying they’ve been forcibly returned to Turkish waters after reaching Greek territorial waters, and even touchdown on a Greek island, is now on the rise.
These forcible returns, in any other case often called pushbacks, have been broadly documented by the Council of Europe’s human rights fee, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration and the investigative journalism platform Bellingcat. The observe is unlawful beneath the U.N. Refugee Convention and worldwide legislation. Yet regardless of clear proof of them taking place, there have been no main repercussions.
In a report from May this yr, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović wrote, “I am particularly concerned about an increase in reported instances in which migrants who have reached the Eastern Aegean islands from Turkey by boat, and have sometimes even been registered as asylum seekers, have been embarked on life rafts by Greek officers and pushed back to Turkish waters.”
Off the Greek island of Samos, close to the Turkish city of Kuşadası, POLITICO watched from a Turkish Coast Guard Command patrol boat, as two Greek coast guard vessels swirled round an engineless rubber dinghy at excessive velocity, inflicting waves in an obvious try and push it into close by Turkish territory. One man fell off and was pulled again onboard after nearly drowning. A Greek coast guard vessel then used a rope to tow the boat to the border of Turkish waters.
Aboard have been 39 individuals from Mali, Cameroon, Somalia, Guinea, each Congos, and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. They claimed the dinghy’s engine had been eliminated by the Greek coast guard, leaving them powerless beneath the recent solar.
Some of these on board — like Ali, a 29-year-old from Mali — had tried the crossing after dwelling in Istanbul’s Fatih district for a number of months, having arrived in Turkey by airplane. Ali and his buddy mentioned they received’t attempt to go to Greece once more after this expertise and can keep in Turkey — precisely the end result the Greek authorities hope for.
Another younger man, from Cameroon — whose spouse lives in France and had been refused a household reunification visa — had tried to get to Greece to reunite together with her. Like others on the boat, after being processed by Turkish migration officers again within the port city of Kuşadası, he could also be permitted to stay in Turkey, or he could possibly be deported again to his nation of origin.
In one other comparable incident, Zehra and her four-year-old son mentioned they spent 4 or 5 hours on Lesvos, hiding in bushes, earlier than being discovered by Greek authorities and put again out to sea in a drifting, engineless raft on the darkish Aegean waves.
“It’s attempted murder, it’s madness, these pushbacks are very inhumane,” mentioned the Turkish North Aegean Group Commander. He claimed that there was a scientific coverage of forcibly returning migrant boats into Turkish waters since February 2020, previous to which it solely occurred very sometimes.
Greece is clearly overwhelmed by being on the receiving finish of the a number of smuggling routes out of Turkey and, subsequently, migrants from throughout Asia and components of Africa, who can typically fly into Turkey with no visa or can simply acquire one. Greek refugee camps are a number of occasions over capability, and cities and cities within the nation are struggling to deal with the variety of individuals which can be caught there for months and years, with few choices.
The downside has worsened since late February 2020, when Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared the nation’s borders open for these wishing to journey to Greece and the EU. This resulted in hundreds of refugees and migrants in Turkey touring to the nation’s western land borders. In response, Athens accused Ankara of weaponizing migration and migrants. And simply final month, the Greek international and migration ministries formally designated Turkey as a protected nation from which asylum seekers can declare worldwide safety — and thus be legally despatched again to.
The Turkish coast guard responds that patrolling your complete Turkish shoreline, dotted with nationwide parks and remoted peninsulas, is inconceivable. Migrant boats are so small that thermal imaging or radar can solely detect them from inside a couple of two-mile radius. According to the North Aegean Group Commander, in 2021, Turkish authorities have thus far arrested 40 smugglers within the area beneath his jurisdiction alone.
Responding to questions from POLITICO, the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs mentioned, “The officers of the Hellenic Coast Guard, who are responsible for guarding the Greek and European sea and land borders, have for months maximized their efforts, operating around the clock with efficiency, a high sense of responsibility, perfect professionalism, patriotism and also with respect for everyone’s life and human rights. As for the tendentious allegations of supposed illegal actions, we must emphasize that the operation practices of the Greek authorities have never included such actions. Given that Greece’s sea and land borders are also the external borders of the European Union, joint operations with Frontex are ongoing.”
Behind the political forwards and backwards, the human actuality is that these making the crossings and risking their lives are those paying the value. Irregular crossings are dangerous sufficient, with ruthless smugglers having little regard for human life. But if pushbacks proceed, it’s going to solely be a matter of time earlier than individuals lose their lives within the waves between the 2 nations.