Category: Pushback and Human Rights Violations
Number of people: 159 (60 children)
On 29 September 2020, we receive an emergency call from a relative who informs us about a group of 159 people, including 60 children, who were forced back and abandoned on an islet (N41.7015142, E 26.3753424) in the middle of the Evros/Meriç river and need immediate help.
The relative reports that the people were pushed back to this islet by what they interpreted as Greek Military and that the group had already tried to call the Turkish police, but they would not come for their rescue.
After several attempts, we are finally able to establish contact with the travellers on the islet, who confirm that they were pushed back by the Greek Military and that they cannot move from the islet, as they have many children and infants with them. They clarify that they are exhausted and that the children and infants need food.
At 10:25h CEST, we inform the respective authorities including the Regional Greek Police, Frontex and the UNHCR about the situation of the people on the island and ask them for an immediate rescue.
During the day of 29 September, we reach out to several state actors in the border region to ask them to rescue the people. On the phone with Ipsala Border Gate in Turkey, we get passed around in between officers. The call ends with one officer wishing us good luck, but no further assistance. At 12:03h CEST we also call the Turkish Coast Guard Command, who confirms to relay the information to the local police authorities.
Only at 21:33h CEST are we able to reach an officer in the Military Station in Edirne in Turkey, who confirms the rescue of a group of people who are reportedly being brought to the Immigration Office.
Later, one of the travellers states the following about the events that took place after the group had arrived on the Greek side of the Evros river:
We started walking, but after 15 Minutes we found the Greek army. They spoke to us in Greek and English. There were three masked men among them who were responsible for searching us. They beat us. Then they transported us in narrow closed cars and took us to the river. The masked men were Syrian, as far as I understood that from the Arabic that they spoke with us. The masked men ordered us to prepare the inflatable boats so that we could return to the Turkish side. One of them was crossing with us to the island in the river, but he was staying on the boat. A person from our group tried to forcefully take the young man from the boat towards land with us, but his masked colleagues started shooting in the air and in the water. We were subjected to a lot of physical violence at the hands of these masked men. They transported the entire group to a small island in the middle of the river and left us there. Shortly after the sounds of bullets, the Turkish army appeared on the Turkish side of the river. They told us that we will die of starvation on this island and refused to transfer us to the Turkish side. We were stuck on the island from 7am to 7pm. […] In the evening, the Turkish army sent milk to the island, but only for the children. Finally, they said that they would allow us to cross and sent a rubber boat to our island. They took the children and women on board and told us [the men] to swim to the Turkish side. After we arrived there, they took us by bus to the police station and offered food and drinks to the women and children. They did not allow us to change our wet clothes and started taking our personal data. Then they took us to a UN camp, but it was under the control of the Turkish army. They did not allow us to sleep. They took our fingerprints in the morning. We spent two days in the camp until we received ‘deportation papers’ from Istanbul towards the East of Turkey.