On 20 October 2020, the Alarm Phone is contacted by a boat in distress near the Greek Island of Crete. It is not a usual call as the people report being on a big boat carrying more than 180 passengers fleeing Turkey. The precise number later turned out to be 197. The boat is a 22-meter-long sailing boat. Worsening weather conditions in the area pose a threat and do not allow them to continue their journey.
At 13:12h CET, we alert the Hellenic Coast Guard in Piraeus. They say that they are already aware of the boat, which is 12 Nautical Miles off the Cretan coast. Shortly after, the people on the boat decide to change course and sail towards the island. They report to the Alarm Phone that the Hellenic Coast Guard called them and advised them to stop their boat as it is too dangerous to land by themselves. The Hellenic Coast Guard also announced that they will come and rescue them.
At 15:17h CET, the passengers call again and report that two big vessels arrived and that they are being told to follow their instructions. The person on the phone says that the situation is critical and that they are being told to wait where they are until they are picked up by the Hellenic Coast Guard at 21:00h CET. When the people try to land on Crete themselves, two vessels of the Hellenic Coast Guard prevent them from doing so and are circling the boat making waves.
At 20:03h CET, we receive a video where someone is clearly heard speaking Greek shortly before a masked man boards the boat and shouts in English to the people to stand back. This video is the last contact we have with the people. None of the numbers we were communicating with before work anymore.
Finally, nearly 48 hours later, on 22 October 2020, relatives inform us that the people were pushed back to Turkey. They were forcibly brought back roughly 200 NM into Turkish waters where they were forced into inflatable life rafts. According to information we received through relatives and the people themselves and as reported above, they were picked up by the Turkish Coast Guard in two different spots off the coast of Mugla: one group in the Marmaris district, another group near Datça.
The following testimony tells the story from the perspective of one of the passengers, a refugee from Syria:
Photos taken and published by the Turkish Coast Guard when they picked up the people from the inflatable life rafts add to the accounts of the travellers.