Refugees adrift in the Aegean

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After his boat broke down, Benyamín and the people who were with him in his barge had to wait several hours at the night solitude of the sea before the greek coast guard he rescued them. Benjamin, of Iran, had just left Turkey by boat with a clear objective: to reach Europe.

At first, everything seemed to be going well: the Greeks, after capturing them, told them not to worry, to give them their belongings and that, after a few days, after passing through Athens, they would send them to Italy. All good, you can continue. But it was a lie.

The Greek police beat us, took all our money from us and for two days they gave us neither food nor water. They took all our valuables: my phone, my gold necklace and even my glasses “, says the young man.

Life rafts adrift in the Aegean with migrants on board waiting to be rescued by the Turkish coast guard. / ADRIÀ ROCHA CUTILLER

After taking everything off and softening them up, the Greeks gathered several groups of migrants in the same patrol boat and took them out to sea again, in the direction, yes, to the turkish coast.

And there in the middle of the Aegean, at the point where the territorial waters of Greece and those of Turkey begin, they put them in three life rafts without an engine and left to their own devices. They were 42 persons, and one of them, who was able to hide his phone, later managed to call the turkish coast guard. They were adrift for an hour: “The Greek policemen did things to us inhuman that I never imagined. They really are the most cops scoundrels of the world, “says Benyamín.

NOT PASS

From the 2015 -When did it start the great wave of refugee migration from Turkey to Greece – hot returns, both by land and by sea, have been constant: Greece has been accused countless times of expelling people who had already entered Hellenic territory. But the cases, documented also by United NationsThey were very sporadic.

Everything changed, however, this past february. On the 28th of that month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that his police would stop restraining refugees and migrants who wanted to go to Europe. Tens of thousands went to the border and tried, and there they ran into a wall of violence, tear gas, kidnappings and robberies. The message that the conservative Greek government gave Kyriakos Mitsotakis it was clear: nobody is going to enter.

Refugees adrift in the Aegean

The Turkish coast guard patrols the waters of the Aegean. / ADRIÀ ROCHA CUTILLER

Since then, although the Greek authorities, consulted by this newspaper, deny it completely, hot returns have become the norm. So much that vSeveral reports even link Frontex, the European border control agency, with the summary expulsions of refugees. “The dominant perception in Greece is that migrant flows have become a weapon from turkey against Greece and that, therefore, migrants and refugees must be treated as such, “he explains Yorgos Christidis, professor at Macedonian University.

Public opinion Much has changed on this issue and only a small minority think in terms of international right and of our obligation to give refuge to people fleeing violence. In this regard, the Government enjoys public support. I suspect that if you ask people, the vast majority will say that the right thing is being done“, added Christidis.

And the right thing to do, stop them, is to stop the flow completely, whatever. According to statistics from UNHCR, the agency of the HIM-HER-IT for refugees, in January and February 2020 they arrived in Greece 7,552 asylum seekers. From March to now – since hot returns have become the norm – they have done it only 1.678. The Turkish coast guard, in this same period, ensures having rescued 7,682 people after being returned to the sea from Greece. It is easy to recognize them: the life rafts where the Greeks put and leave the migrants, of bright red and tent-shaped, they are seen for miles.

RESCUE MISSION

At night, however, it is difficult to find them. The sun has not yet risen over the horizon and the Turkish coast guards, who are patrolling the southern Aegean, near the Greek islands of Rhodes and Symi, you just received a notice. Near the coast of Marmaris, to the south, there is a group of refugees. But when they go there they find nothing.

This is when it happens: they receive the call of a refugee “The one who got the phone from him.” “It is a tactic of the greeks. They give us a false alarm so that we empty the area where they will return, so that we do not see them, “says a Turkish coast guard.

Rescue of 42 refugees in the Aegean Sea: The Greek police lied to us

Speeding north, in the first light of day, there they are: three floating red tents that, full of people, shine and reflect the rays of the already shy autumn sun. “Hey! Does anyone speak Turkish? You? Okay, take the rope, and stretch, OK? Try to get to the back of the boat. There, to the platform. Now we will upload you one by one. The backpacks will be taken by us. Above all, tranquility, “say the Turks.

And as the migrants board the boat, in the distance, on the Greek coast, two boats. They are the Greek Coast Guard. “After a return we always have watching from a distance, “says a Turkish agent.

NO PLACE TO GO

When the operation ends, the 42 rescued are taken back to Turkey. Some are relieved to be back on solid ground; the majority, desperate to have lost everything on the way and to go back to where they came from. “What am I going to do now? The Greek policemen took my passport, mobile and money. Where will i go? I’m afraid of being deported back to Afghanistan. What do I do now? What I do?“he says, desperate, Captive, a boy 16 years old traveling alone. He wanted to meet his uncle in Germany.

Refugees adrift in the Aegean

Rescued refugees aboard the Turkish coast guard ship. / ADRIÀ ROCHA CUTILLER

Benyamín, meanwhile, tucks in and tries to comfort his girlfriend, who can’t stop crying. They have lost almost everything, but still have a suitcase with clothes. For them, there is no other option: “We will try again. We’re not staying. “

Upon reaching the port, already in Turkey, the police make them get off the ship and confine them in a separate place. Will pass a few days in the barracks and then they will be free again. For some, it will be the end of the journey; they have already tired. For most, however, it will be one more stumbling block. Many, fleeing violence and going through violence, already have very little to lose.

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