Every day in Greece people are beaten, deprived of their rights and valuables, kidnapped and illegally deported. Every day these capital crimes and international rights violations are committed by the Greek police and coast guard and are mandated and financed by the highest authority. As of now, these are no longer just accusations, but facts captured on video, which I published together with the New York Times.
This text has been translated with Deepl from the German original. All names have been changed.
It is 5:34 as Mortasar arrives on Lesbos in a rubber dinghy with 13 other people. Soon the sun will rise and Mortasar, his wife Sarah, their common 5 year old daughter Amira and Mortasar’s 13 and 16 year old brothers have to hurry. They have to use the twilight to get as undetected as possible far away from the beach. Somewhere in the undergrowth on the mountains or in the olive groves they want to go. Where they can’t find „the bad guys“ until the „good guys“ are there.
„The bad guys“ are none other than the Greek police and coast guard. They do not come in their constitutional mandate, not in uniform and not with police cars, but use civilian clothes, balaclavas and cars without license plates. After arrivals of boats on Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros, Kos and other islands, they come to chase, capture as well as tie up, kidnap, imprison, deny them their right to apply for asylum, and finally to deport them illegally, abandon them on a maneuverless life raft and leave them there to their fate. They do this on a daily basis and have deported thousands of people in this way over the last three years, as can be seen from the official apprehensions of the Turkish coast guard.
Mortasar and his family have been on the journey for 7 months, if you can call their flight from Afghanistan that. First they went to Iran and by cars and buses to the Turkish border. There, more traffickers were paid to take them across the border and through many detours to Izmir. In Izmir, Mortasar and his two oldest brother worked as much as they could to save the money for the onward journey. 5,000 euros for the whole family.
It worked out for Mortarsar and his family the first time. An incredible luck that not many have. Those that the Greek Coast Guard prevents from entering Greek territorial waters at the maritime border with Turkey. Often, the Greek coast guard uses long metal poles to destroy the engines of the rubber dinghies and leave the people to their fate. It is always the Turkish coast guard that rescues the people and brings them back to Turkey.
The sun slowly rises as Mortasar’s group walks up the coast inland. Loaded with all their belongings, the toddlers in their arms and partly without shoes that went overboard during the crossing. After two kilometers they are exhausted and hope not to be found in the thicket. The group consisting of 13 people is lucky that day. One of the „good guys“ finds them, informs UNHCR and the authorities and stays with the people until they are officially registered and taken to the Megala Therma camp for quarantine. There they can file their asylum application and are now officially asylum seekers.
For many others, their arrival in the EU ends with serious crimes and human rights violations. Such is the case for Aisha and her 6-month-old daughter Carla from Somalia. When they land on Lesvos on April 11, 2023, the „bad guys“ are very quick. At 8:17, dark-clad men masked with balaclavas appeared. Masses of cable-tie handcuffs hung from their belts.
How could they find them so quickly? On the one hand, the Greek coast guard always knows exactly when and where boats are sailing, thanks to its massive surveillance of the maritime border with Turkey using thermal imaging cameras on land, patrol boats and the active support of Frontex. However, the coast guard boat is often too slow to immediately push the refugees back into Turkish territorial waters. Thus, the refugee boat may reach a Greek island. The landing location is immediately passed on to the police and the coast guard ashore, and the hijackers set off. On the spot, the Coast Guard then sends up a drone with a thermal imaging camera and there is no hiding or escaping for the refugees. This is how they find Aisha and her group of ten other people, including five minors.
The masked men shout at Aisha and her fellow sufferers in English to get into the van. Before they do so, they take away their cell phones and all cash – a common practice in Greece. Among themselves, the masked men speak Greek. The refugees are taken to a van. It is a white one on this day. On other days it is dark blue or green, but always without a window by the loading area, no license plates and latches and padlock on the back door. After the prisoners are loaded, the convoy consisting of the van, two cars without license plates and a station wagon with license plates starts moving at high speed towards the south of Lesvos.
„The good guys“ have lost the race for the refugees that day. When they arrive at the scene, only backpacks, diapers, clothes, IDs and disposable gloves are left. The „good guys,“ those are a few dedicated activists who still drive to so-called landings. Most of them have not been doing so for a long time, because the Greek judiciary is taking action against the helpers with all means at its disposal and is charging them at least with aiding and abetting trafficking. Doctors without Borders has also been going to landings for just under a year. If the „good guys“ are with the refugees first, the kidnappers break off their mission and withdraw or flee outright. In one case, this led to refugees being found by a Doctors Without Borders team, tied up and ready to go
The journey of Aisha, Carla and their group into the unknown takes about an hour.a few minutes after the stop, the back door is opened. The refugees can’t see anything, the midday sun is too bright after an hour in complete darkness. Even as their eyes adjust to the light, the refugees are herded out of the van and down a short dirt road to a beach. They are in a cove where there is nothing but a luxury villa, a small wooden jetty and a speedboat . The people are herded onto the boat and have to sit down and duck so that they are not visible from the outside.
When everyone is loaded, the boat sets off and makes its way out of the bay at high speed. The van turns around and leaves the gravel road, heading north as well. Only a car with two policemen, one of them in uniform, stays behind to keep uninvited guests away from the bay. At the end of the bay, a ship of the Greek Coast Guard, the Hellenic Coast Guard, is already waiting to take over the kidnap victims and initiate the illegal deportation.
Aisha and her baby, as well as the others from her group, have to climb onto the Greek Coast Guard ship, are led to the front part of the ship, where they have to go below deck. After five minutes, everything is done. The speedboat sails away at high speed towards the west, the coast guard ship sails towards the east, towards Turkey.
Only 30 minutes later, the ship reaches its destination: the sea border with Turkey. There, the crew of the ship inflates a life raft and leads their prisoners back on deck, from where they have to climb onto the life raft. Once everyone has left the ship, it sails up and down for another hour, presumably to create waves and propel the life raft toward Turkey. At 2:30 p.m., the life raft is finally found by two ships of the Turkish coast guard, which meticulously reports on each of these interceptions – including photos and videos on its website.
The refugees are taken on board and transported to the port of Izmir Dikili and from there to Izmir, where they are detained by the authorities for about two weeks.
Again and again, these illegal abandonments end fatally. Completely at the mercy of wind and weather at sea, the life rafts also capsize or sink time and again: for many non-swimmers and children among the refugees, certain death, as on September 3, 2022, when six people did not survive their illegal deportation.
But there is a big difference between the crimes against Aisha, her daughter and the rest of her fellow sufferers and the many other abductions and deportations: This time, for the very first time ever, these crimes were filmed. In every detail can be seen what was described above.
After much research, culminating in this undercover video recording, which was leaked to the New York Times, reporters from the newspaper were able to find, interview and confirm that Aisha, Carla and nine others from their group are now back in Turkey.
Robbery, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, denial of an asylum application, illegal deportation and abandoning people in a maneuverless life raft. All of these, among other capital crimes, are committed by the Greek police and coast guard virtually every day on the Aegean islands and on the Evros, the border river between Greece and Turkey. State-organized serious crimes, because otherwise such operations could never be carried out for years. In large part financed by the EU, often observed by Frontex and ignored by the Greek military, whose eyes miss nothing on the hotspot islands.
This New York Times story as well as this post provide for the first time photo and video footage of the crimes already denounced by many refugees, activists, NGOs and reporters. Now they are visible to all and can no longer be denied by anyone. Not by politics, not by the EU Commission, not by the Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis and his party Nea Demokratia, not by the perpetrators themselves, not by the Greek police and coast guard, not by Frontex and certainly not by the national and international law enforcement agencies.