Push-back of 150 Syrians in Evros: An eye-witness speaks out

Efymerida ton Sindakton published today a witness account of one of the Syrians who had disappeared on November 12th in Evros.

Read also respective announcement of UNHCR

We implored them for help, they threw us in the river
by Dimitris Angelidis

International report – catapults

The systematic and extended application of the illegal practice of readmissions has been registered in a series of reports by international organisms and organizations in the last years. Nevertheless the Greek authorities ostentatiously ignore the allegations, creating a regime of impunity which closes their eyes when it comes to massive violations of fundamental rights of migrants and refugees.
According to the report of Amnesty International “Frontier Europe” which was published in July, the Commissioner Malmstrom expressed her big concern for the allegations and stated that if they are proved or continue “it is possible to lead to a suspension or termination of a part of or of all Frontex operations in the Greek-Turkish borders”.
The commissioner could have been more strict in her statements, if they wouldn’t reflect Europe’s shift into a more conservative migration and refugees’ policy. “Migrants who manage to cross the European borders, are often victims of push-backs” reported on Monday three international organizations on a common press release with the Hellenic League for Human Rights, that accuses the EU for promoting practices that penalize migrants and invest in border control, instead of creating reception structures.
Similar allegations have been made since years. Already in October 2009, the problem was described in the reported “Unwanted” of the Norwegian NGO NOAS, Helsinki and the Greek NGO AITIMA.
Extremely serious are the allegations made in the recent report of Pro Asyl, entitled “Pushed back.”
Despite the allegations, the Greek political and natural leadership of the security corps expresses its ignorance about the push-backs. Instead of ordering a serious and to the end investigation about the allegations, the Ministry of Citizen Protection, via the Minister Nikos Dendias, informs the Parliament that no incidents of push-backs have been reported neither by the Greek police nor by Frontex (!), of those accused of committing such illegal operations.
Moreover, it bypasses the allegations for the use of violence, that amounts to torture talking about a technological spectacle kind of… “sound and light”. In order to stop the entrance of migrants, he says, the authorities “basically use technological equipment that transmits sound and light signals that inform the authorities of the neighboring country in order to arrest the migrants before entering into our country.
As Pro Asyl denounces, the Minister of Shipping, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, denied recently to reply to questions concerning the allegations on push-backs, while he did not hide his attitude towards the refugees. “Our policy doesn’t change. Which is discouraging migrants from illegally entering into our country […] Our country has been financially exhausted and cannot integrated into the society other migrants. This is our clear will and based on that the Coastguard is vigilant and will continue, for a more efficient policing of our sea borders”.
In the same line also the head of the Hellenic Coastguard, vice admiral Dimitris Bantias, who states “The Hellenic coastguard, has the right to interdict the entrance of illegal migrants, as they are coming un-invited and with no documents”.
The newspaper “I Efimerida ton Syntakton” publishes the incredible testimony of a Syrian refugee, who has been a victim of an illegal readmission operation to Turkey, last week. It’s a 34 years old father of two, member of a group of 150 syrian refugees, whose traces got lost in Orestiada, on Tuesday 12th November. As we wrote, based on the testimonies of people who have spoken with them, half of the refugees of the group have been violently pushed back and ended up in Istanbul. Today, the 34 years old Syrian, with whom we’ve talked on the phone, reveals what happened that night. According to all indications and based on the allegations made by international organizations and organs, illegal operations of push-backs are taking places since years, almost on a daily basis, in Greece’s sea and land borders. It seems that the fence in Evros is not enough to succeed into “zero” migratory flow, about which the Minister of Public Order and Citizen Protection is so proud, while the deaths of migrants and refugees in the Aegean exceed 100. Despite the danger for their own lives, refugees and migrants are trying to cross the borders again and again, as in their countries of origin they face wars and degrading conditions.

The testimony of the 34 years old Syrian

Three times I have been pushed back to Greece. The first was 5 months ago. We tried to cross the sea, all of our family. My wife, our two children and I. The police came with boats and accompanied us to the Turkish side and punctured our boat on the side. We had sick persons and children with us. The Turksih coastguard found us and helped us.
The second time was on the 5th of November. We crossed from Evros and we walked. There were cars passing by us. Some people gave us food. We must have walked for about 10 km when the police appeared. It was 10 o’clock in the night. “We came to escape from the war” we told them. “You have nothing to do here, you must leave”, they told us and put us inside a big van, along with other 50 persons, cramped one on the other for some space. There were women, children and babies with us. They put us in cars and drove to the river, where they left us locked inside for 5-6 hours. They took us out, took our bags, mobiles and threw them in the river. It was raining and we were waiting without having a place to protect ourselves from the rain. We were screaming. We didn’t know what would happen to us. Around 2-3 in the morning, they put us on a boat and sent us back. When it was morning again, we were on the Turkish side.
The third time was on November 12, 2013. We were many, 150 persons, all Syrians. With us there were women, 22 children and 6 babies under the age of 1 year old. We crossed the borders and we were walking on the street. We asked who ever we met with, where the police was in order to give ourselves in. We arrived in the village of Praggi. One from our group spoke good Greek and read the signs. We gathered a big group in the yard of the church, the others stayed outside from the village, near the river. We asked for help, but noboby showed up. Maybe they were afraid of us. 2-3 hours later, the police arrived and it’s then when the first villagers came out. The police officers were many, 40-50. They asked us what we wanted and we told them to go to the reception center. “Ok” they said “we’ll take you”. But they lied to us.

Crude violence by the police officers
With us, there was a family, a wife and a husband with their two daughters. The husband told to the police. “Help us, I have my family with me”. I swear to God, I’ve never seen a person in my life, being beaten up that badly. They threw him on the ground and stepped on his head, kicking him, hitting him with the gunpoint. This lasted for about 30 minutes. Then they started kicking the woman. Then they took some naked wires and started beating them with these. I swear, they were Greek officers. Then, they started with us. They beat us one by one until the cars arrived.
We asked them again “We’ll you take us to the camp?”. They replied “Yes, get inside”. They closed the doors and the windows, we couldn’t breathe. In front of us, on the other side, there was the Turkish military camp. More and more police officers would arrive, they were around 60-70. Some were in plainclothes, others were in dark blue uniforms. Their faces were covered. They were talking English, Greek and German. And they were holding sticks. We knew what was waiting for us. One part was guarding us, one was looking on the Turkish side to check when the Turkish soldiers would leave in order to send us back and twelve of them were holding the sticks and beating us. They didn’t care where, on the back, on our legs, even directly on our heads.

Sixteen less
They then looked in our bags and took our money and our mobiles. “We’ll give them back to you”, they were saying. I had hidden well in the bag 300 euros in order not to get wet. They took my passport. They took my mobile. Then they threw the bag in the river. They started putting us in a boat, thirty at a time. Whoever denied, they would put the gun in the head and yell “Inside! Inside”. I slipped and fell in the river, I don’t know how to swim. The others pulled me out. The police officers were just looking.
The Turkish police found us at 10 o’clock in the morning. We were 134 and they arrested us all. From those we had started together, there were sixteen people missing. Among them, a family of nine Armenians living in Syria. Three men, three women and three children. No one knows what happened to them. To the others, they gave us to eat well, gave us water, blankets to sleep until the cars came and took us to Istanbul.
Yesterday, I managed to stand on my feet and walk. Even today, a week later, my back is in pain. I’ll undertake the journey again though. Behind me, there are serious problems. I want to send a message to the people. Until when should we sacrifice? Until when, will they all stare indifferently. It’s enough with the blood of the Syrians which is lost like that. I don’t care about dying. I’m 34 years old. But there are women, families, children. I’m thinking about them. The sky in Syria is not blue anymore, but red from the blood. This is why we take our children and we do this journey. Don’t let things become worse.

(transl. to English by KT)

efimerida tin syndakton (in greek)