‘They just left us’: Greece is accused of setting migrants adrift at sea

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Wet and shaken, girls and kids have been pulled aboard the Turkish patrol boat first, then the boys and extra youngsters.

A 7-year-old lady in striped leggings, Heliah Nazari, shivered uncontrollably as she was set down on the deck. An older girl retched right into a plastic bag.

They have been two of 20 asylum-seekers from Afghanistan who had been drifting in the dead of night, deserted in rudderless rafts for 4 hours earlier than the Turkish coast guard reached them.

Just hours earlier that they had been resting in a forest on the Greek island of Lesbos once they have been caught by Greek law enforcement officials who confiscated their paperwork, cash and cellphones and ferried them out to sea.

“They kicked us all, with their feet, even the children, women, men and everyone,” mentioned Ashraf Salih, 21, recounting their story. “They did not say anything, they just left us. They weren’t humane at all.”

Turkish coast guard officers described it as a transparent case — hardly ever witnessed by journalists — of the unlawful pushbacks which have now grow to be a daily function of the harmful sport of cat and mouse between the 2 nations over hundreds of migrants who proceed to try the sea crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands as a means into Europe.

Since a mutual settlement broke down final 12 months, Turkey and Greece have been at loggerheads over find out how to take care of the persevering with move of migrants alongside one of probably the most frequented routes used because the mass motion boomed in 2015.

Then, a million migrants, principally Syrians fleeing the warfare of their nation, led the surge into Europe. The move is a lot lowered — 40,000 have arrived by sea into Europe to this point this 12 months — but it surely is now dominated by Afghans, elevating fears that the escalating battle there and the US withdrawal of troops may carry bigger numbers.

Illegal pushback of migrants has grow to be a daily function for Greece, say the Turkish Coast Guard. (The New York Times)

For greater than a 12 months, Turkey has turned a blind eye to the migrants, permitting them to strive the sea crossing to Greece. That nation has resorted to expelling migrants forcibly, disabling their boats and pushing them again to Turkey when they’re caught at sea.

Increasingly, Greece is even eradicating asylum-seekers who’ve reached its islands, forcing them into life rafts and towing them into Turkish waters, because the compassion many Greeks had proven throughout earlier waves of migration has given method to anger and exhaustion.

The tactic of so-called pushbacks has been roundly denounced by refugee organizations and European officers as a violation of worldwide legislation and of basic European values. The Greek authorities denies that it has pushed again any migrants whereas insisting on its proper to guard its borders.

“Numerous cases have been investigated, including by the European Union,” Notis Mitarachi, minister for migration and asylum in Greece, mentioned final week, “and reports have found no evidence of any breach of EU fundamental rights.”

Philippe Leclerc, head of the United Nations refugee company in Turkey, mentioned his workplace had introduced proof, together with “accounts of violence and family separations” to the Greek ombudsman, requesting the instances be investigated, with out end result.

The two nations are at an deadlock, with Turkey demanding that Greece finish the pushbacks first, and Greece demanding that Turkey first take again 1,400 migrants whose asylum requests have been rejected, Leclerc mentioned.

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been extensively accused of precipitating the disaster, when in February final 12 months he introduced he was opening his nation’s borders for migrants to journey to Europe.

Turkish officers, who spoke on situation of anonymity as a result of they weren’t permitted to talk to the information media, mentioned the step was taken to attract world consideration to Turkey’s personal burden in internet hosting some 4 million asylum-seekers from different nations’ wars — greater than 3.6 million Syrians, together with 400,000 different folks from Afghanistan, Asia and the Middle East. It is the only largest refugee group on the planet and has taken over the entire suburbs of Istanbul and the capital, Ankara.

But the motion was interpreted in Greece as a sort of blackmail to extort cash and different concessions from the European Union on a spread of points.

It led to clashes between migrants and Greek border guards on the Turkish-Greek border and brought about the conservative Greek authorities to undertake aggressive new measures towards migrants, together with the pushbacks.

Greece has struggled to deal with the inflow of greater than 100,000 asylum instances and overcrowded refugee camps on its islands whereas different European nations have executed little to share the burden.

But Turkish officers stress that the numbers Greece is dealing with are nothing in contrast with the size of the pressure on Turkey. Resentment towards the migrants in Turkey has grown as financial circumstances have worsened, threatening Erdogan’s political standing. He, in flip, has railed towards wealthier states shirking their duties towards the world’s refugees and never doing sufficient to finish the conflicts that trigger them to flee.

Frustrated after greater than a 12 months of choosing up hundreds of migrants left by their Greek counterparts, the Turkish coast guard invited journalists just lately on a patrol boat to witness what they mentioned have been the Greek violations.

“It is obvious they were pushed back,” Senior Lt. Cmdr. Sadun Ozdemir, the Northern Aegean group commander of the Turkish coast guard, mentioned after his crew had rescued the 20 Afghans. “They did not come from the sky.”

He mentioned the Greek vessel had most likely towed the rafts deep into Turkish territorial waters earlier than reducing them adrift, which he mentioned was a further violation.

One raft was overloaded and the skinny backside leaking, he mentioned. “That boat could have sunk in one or two minutes, and possibly they do not know how to swim and they could have drowned.”

As typically occurs, the Turkish crew acquired an e mail from their Greek counterparts that migrants have been drifting within the space — a seeming effort by the Greeks to mitigate the loss of life however one thing the Turks say is an implicit signal of Greek culpability.

The pushbacks additionally harm relations between the Greek and Turkish coast guards and intervene with work towards drug and folks trafficking, Ozdemir mentioned.

Commercial ships in addition to navy and coast guard vessels move by means of the northern Aegean and will simply hit the small rafts and boats, which don’t have any lights or means of navigation, he added.

“This thing we call ‘pushback’ in English is a very innocent expression,” he mentioned. But the motion was something however, he mentioned, hoping to convey “how desperate the situation is.”

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