Category: Pushback and Human Rights Violations
Number of people: 197 (50 women, 50 children)
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:
They waited until 9pm. It was very dark already when they entered our boat. There was a Greek boat coming, first, we thought to assist us. It was a big grey ship and it looked like made for war. First, they stormed the boat with men wearing black masks. They entered in a very violent way and started beating everybody around. They broke some people’s arms and fingers. They took phones away and also other sorts of belongings, even clothes or trousers of some people. When they found the captain of the boat, they beat him up with very heavy violence. We all feared that he will die. He was severely injured, and had one arm broken 5 times. Also, the other hand was broken and he suffered from a head-trauma. Possibly also organs have been damaged, as he was heavily beaten in the stomach. They literally beat him everywhere. He was pushed back with us – back to Turkey. They transferred all people on two different boats. I think both boats belonging to the Greek Coast Guard or Military. At this point, the first commando of masked men, who entered our boat, had left. However, also these next group of officers all wore masks. I was lucky, because they put me on the boat with the families, which was better because they did not beat us anymore after the transfer. On the boat, where they put most men, they continued beating them during the whole journey. All of us had to sit down on the deck. They shouted: “Sit down. Look down.” We had to sit on the floor and were not allowed to lift our heads. They treated us like dangerous terrorists. They did not really speak with us. Only in the beginning one of them said they will bring us to the camp now. It was impossible to realize where they brought us, but they went with a lot of speed. The journey lasted 10 hours. Due to the rain and the wind, we all became wet – also the women and children who were with us on the top of the ship. The Greek officers did not give us any food or water and we weren’t allowed to pee. Some said they want to go to toilet, but they only shouted at us. When it was morning again, they forced us into life-rafts. They pushed us down and some people just fell from the boat into the rubber islands. When we were all on the life-rafts they drove away, but stayed in a distance and observed us. In the beginning we were very afraid, because we thought they will shoot us, as they were watching us while holding guns. It was horrible. Some of the second group later told us that they were put on bigger swimming islands – similar to demobilized boats. During their journey, they suffered more violence. Many of them were injured. They were placed on a different location on these bigger life-rafts without a roof. We only met them in Turkey. When the Turkish coastguard picked us up, we suffered another 2 days. We had to sleep outside in a yard, they only gave us some UN-blankets. After two days we had to pay for a bus ride, which finally brought us to a supportive organization. We could choose then if we want to go to Izmir or to Istanbul. In total, we spent 4 days in the forest, then 3 days at sea, then 2 days outside in the yard of the police station, then 1 night outside at the bus-stop. So, 10 days in total under really horrible conditions.
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.

Life rafts near Marmaris and rescue of people by TCG

4 life rafts found near Mugla and rescued by TCG