Push backs and violations of human rights at sea: a timeline

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The following timeline provides a non-exhaustive compilation of main reports of push backs and other violations of human rights at the Greek-Turkish sea borders since March 2020, following Greece’s decision to impose a one-month suspension of its asylum procedure in response to declarations by Turkey that it would not prevent refugees from crossing its western borders. On 2 March, the Hellenic Armed Forces began live-fire military exercises along the Aegean, from Samothrace to Kastellorizo.

Timeline dates refer to the date of publication of reports, separately indicating the date of alleged incidents, where available.

This timeline solely purports to reproduce material made publicly available by media and civil society organisations and does not amount to an assessment by RSA  or PRO ASYL of the allegations contained therein.

A timeline of responses thereon by Greek authorities, EU institutions and agencies and domestic and international monitoring bodies may be accessed here:

  • 4 March 2020

    Alarm Phone: Several incidents of push backs were reported in different locations during the first three days of March.

    In one incident on 1 March, a boat with 49 people was reportedly attacked twice by a speedboat with black-masked men near Lesvos. The engine was destroyed in the first attack and the people had to row towards Lesvos with their hands. Alarm Phone was informed that the boat was in the port of Thermi by 14:30, where locals verbally abused the refugees and prevented them from disembarking. The Hellenic Coast Guard eventually pulled the boat to a different location. In another incident, Alarm Phone was alerted before midnight by a boat carrying 45 people on their way to Chios. The boat engine was confiscated and was reportedly pushed back into Turkish waters by the Hellenic Coast Guard, before being pulled back with a rope by the Turkish Coast Guard.

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  • 6 March 2020

    Politico: The Hellenic Coast Guard gave orders to a Danish patrol boat taking part in the Frontex Operation Poseidon to push people back into Turkish waters. The police chief in charge of the Danish unit, told media that “the crew had rescued 33 migrants headed for Greece in a rubber dinghy when they received a radio order from Operation Poseidon’s headquarters to put the migrants back into to their dinghy and tow it out of Greek waters.” The crew refused the order, believing it would endanger the lives of the people and took the group to the island of Kos.

  • 1 April 2020


    Aegaio: Eyewitnesses saw a boat arriving in the area of Galazio on Samos. Photos show an abandoned inflatable boat on the beach, pointing the arrival of refugees on the island. However, local media reported that no official information was provided from the Greek authorities.

  • 7 April 2020


    Efimerida ton Syntakton: Evidence of various incidents of collective expulsions, including one documented by aegaio.blogspot.com on 1 April in Mourtia beach on Samos and a second incident on Chios in late March. According to a testimony provided to the newspaper, a boat with 40 refugees arrived in the area of ​​Kardamyla on Chios on 23 March. The incident was recorded by the local press and, according to the article, was confirmed by the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard subsequently denied such an arrival. Efsyn also refers to the testimony of a refugee living in VIAL hotspot, whose brother was on the boat and had informed him about his arrival by sending him pictures, before ending up in a prison in Turkey. The article also refers to several incidents between 23 March and 4 April, where the Turkish Coast Guard found and rescued refugees from life rafts.

  • 30 April 2020

    Efimerida ton Syntakton: Residents of Drakaioi village on Samos reported seeing a group of 40 refugees appearing in the village square on 28 April. A patrol of the Coast Guard and police headed to the area of Drakaioi. A journalist said that a woman who was walking with her partner later that evening saw a Coast Guard boat towing a life raft in the area. A video obtained by Efimerida ton Syntakton shows a boat full of refugees arriving in a remote shore that day, fully matching the area described by the residents. TVXS has also reported on the incident.

  • 4 May 2020


    Astraparis: Eyewitness testimonies described the arrival on 30 April of a boat carrying around 15 refugees in Monolia beach on Chios. Refugees were seen arriving and walking in the area. Eyewitnesses told Astraparis that they saw the Chios Coast Guard lifeboat No 518 in the area, and a vehicle with two coast guards on land. A member of the crew landed on the shore with the auxiliary inflatable of the boat, tied the inflatable boat at the end of the lifeboat and towed it to an unknown direction.

  • 14 May 2020


    Alarm Phone: Since early March, the organisation “had 28 emergency calls from the Aegean Sea – in most of these cases, the distress resulted from attacks on boats carried out in Greek waters. In 18 of these cases, survivors reported of push backs where vessels of the Greek coastguard were involved and ‘masked men’ had attacked them”. In an incident on 10 May, a Hellenic Coast Guard vessel reportedly attacked an overcrowded dinghy carrying 24 persons in Turkish waters and took away their fuel. According to testimonies, the boat was taking water, however boats appearing from the Greek side did not act. Two hours later, the people were rescued by the Turkish Coast Guard.

  • 20 May 2020


    RSA & PRO ASYL: Increasing allegations received by RSA since 2020 refer to conduct including: Greek Coast Guard vessel manoeuvres in high-speed near refugee boats; confiscation of fuel and/or destruction of engines; pointing of guns at the individuals on board refugee boats; towing of the boats towards Turkey, leaving people adrift on often unseaworthy and overcrowded dinghies and putting their lives at risk. In some cases, the reports received referred to the following conduct: ramming of the refugee boats; firing of shots near the refugee boats or in the air.

  • 22 May 2020

    Just Security: In an incident involving a group of refugees who had arrived on the island of Symi on 22 March, the group was forced into a life raft on 23 March and was left adrift.

  • 2 June 2020

    Alarm Phone was notified by people on board two boats in distress. The last GPS location it received showed them be in Greek territorial waters near Lesvos. According to the Turkish Coast Guard, the Hellenic Coast Guard had pushed the boats back into Turkish waters.

  • 4 June 2020


    Alarm Phone was informed of three boats in distress off the coast of Lesvos, two of which were pushed back to Turkey by the Hellenic Coast Guard. In the third incident, refugees stated that the “Greek coast guard was using patrol boats to push them back out of Greek waters by making large waves and that (they) have been in water for more than a day. Alarm Phone was informed that later the travellers were rescued by a German Frontex boat and brought to Mytilene”. The three incidents concerned 105 people in total.

  • 6 June 2020


    Efimerida ton Syntakton: Video shows refugees on board a boat requesting rescue and reporting beatings by police. The boat was reportedly left in distress for ten hours before being rescued by the Turkish Coast Guard.

  • 13 June 2020


    Alarm Phone: 32 refugees, including three pregnant women and small children, were left adrift on board a boat with no engine off the coast of Lesvos for over 15 hours, without being rescued by the Hellenic or Turkish Coast Guard. One of the pregnant women was reported to be in dire condition. The boat was eventually towed to the port of Petra on Lesvos. Der Spiegel and ARD reported that, around 19:00 on that day, the Hellenic Coast Guard was making circles around the boat without proceeding to its rescue.

  • 13 July 2020


    Legal Centre Lesvos: Report of collective expulsions in the Aegean based on “information shared with the Legal Centre Lesvos is from 30 survivors, and testimonies from 7 individuals who were in direct contact with survivors, or were witness to, a collective expulsion. These testimonies, related to eight separate collective expulsions, were collected between March and June 2020, directly by the Legal Centre Lesvos”.

  • 16 July 2020


    Human Rights Watch: “Six asylum seekers… described three incidents in March and April in which Greek Coast Guard personnel, Greek police, and armed masked men in dark clothing coordinated and carried out summary returns to Turkey from the Greek islands of Rhodes, Samos, and Symi”.

  • 5 August 2020


    Efimerida ton Syntakton: 60 refugees reached a beach on Rhodes on 24 July after the boat carrying them was embroiled with the Turkish Coast Guard. The 60 refugees did not appear to be registered by the Greek authorities. All of them, together with another sixty, reportedly disappeared from the quarantine facility where they had been transferred, following a visit by the police. On the same day, according to the Turkish authorities, an additional 23 people in life rafts were rescued from the same area.

  • 9 August 2020


    Alarm Phone received a distress call from a group of approximately 35 individuals who were subjected to a push back to Turkey after they were placed in a life raft.

  • 12 August 2020


    Efimerida ton Syntakton: Reference to a briefing to the German Deputy Minister of Defence obtained by Deutsche Welle, containing evidence of operation of German Navy forces in at least two unlawful operations of the Hellenic Coast Guard in the Aegean. In the first incident on 19 June, the Navy vessel “Berlin” observed a Hellenic Coast Guard vessel pushing back a boat into Turkish territorial waters. In the second incident on 30 April, the Navy witnessed a push back operation from Chios.

  • 14 August 2020


    New York Times: Greece has dropped at sea more than 1,000 asylum seekers in at least 31 separate incidents. The report drew on photo or video evidence from all 31 incidents, as well as on interviews with survivors in five.

  • 14 August 2020


    Efimerida ton Syntakton: In two incidents on Lesvos, a total of 57 refugees who landed on Koraka Cape and Gavatha Bay subsequently disappeared, according to photographic evidence by Aegean Boat Report. Despite testimonies by locals, including references to shots fired at night, the Hellenic Coast Guard denied their arrival.

  • 15 August 2020


    Efimerida ton Syntakton: On 15 August, Turkish vessels tried to push a boat towards Greek territorial waters, while the Hellenic Coast Guard attempted to prevent its entry. A total of nine vessels (Greek and Turkish), three helicopters (one Greek) and German Navy vessel DE KEL under NATO command participated in the incident.

  • 15 August 2020


    Alarm Phone: Video obtained by a group of refugees pushed back to Turkey by the Hellenic Coast Guard on 9 August points to the use of life rafts in push backs.

  • 22 August 2020


    Mare Liberum documented three push back incidents in the Aegean and explores the involvement of German Federal Police and Armed Forces vessels in such practices. The research contains photos and other evidence. Mare Liberum reports among others the presence of German Navy vessel “A1411 Berlin” under NATO command during the pushback of a dinghy with 32 people on board on 15 August and the pushback of 67 people on 17 June. Both reported incidents happened off the coast of Lesvos.

  • 23 August 2020


    Efimerida ton Syntakton: Research by Josoor relating to an incident on 11 July analysed four videos showing masked men on a boat. Through geolocation, the videos identified Hellenic Coast Guard vessel No 618 reaching a boat full of refugees near Lesvos. The refugees later alleged that they were pushed back to Turkey.

  • 17 September 2020


    CNN: Research revealed multiple pushback incidents, including one on 13 September during which, following their arrival on Lesvos, 11 individuals were placed in life rafts by masked men and were pushed back at sea and then rescued by the Turkish Coast Guard. The article documents a similar incident on 16 August involving a group of Somali refugees, including a pregnant woman and her husband.

  • 27 September 2020


    The Guardian: “Interviews with five victims of pushbacks, 10 NGOs working across the Aegean Sea including Human Rights Watch, Josoor and the Aegean Boat Report, and a tranche of videos reviewed by the Guardian reveal an organised and systemic practice of denying entry to asylum seekers.”

  • 14 October 2020


    Alarm Phone: Since March 2020, most distress calls Alarm Phone has received from the Aegean Sea report push backs. In recent months, despite repeated communications with NATO forces and Frontex about distress cases in the Aegean, Alarm Phone has not received any reports or seen any of the vessels reacting to requests for rescue. Between 28 February and 30 September, the organisation was reportedly notified of 80 distress cases in the Aegean. In more than 55 cases in the Aegean, people described violent attacks and/or pushbacks.

  • 23 October 2020


    Der Spiegel, Lighthouse Reports, Bellingcat: Frontex officials knew about Greek border guards conducting push backs and were at times involved in push backs at sea. Research documents inter alia a push back incident by the Hellenic Coast Guard dated 15 August where a Romanian vessel deployed to Frontex was present on site, a few hundred meters away from the refugee boat. According to the research, “a German navy ship on a NATO mission that observed the incident reported it to the German government. It also stated that Frontex people had been present.”

  • 5 November 2020


    Efimerida ton Syntakton: Photos and videos show a group of 36 refugees arriving in Evia on 27 October, corroborated by Whatsapp geolocation and testimonies to Aegean Boat Report. According to a testimony, the Hellenic Coast Guard transported the group to another vessel, and then a different one. At night, 18 people were placed in life raft and were left adrift off of Chios, before being picked up by the Turkish Coast Guard.

  • 13 November 2020


    Efimerida ton Syntakton: Collective expulsion of 30 refugees who had arrived on Lesvos, carried out by the Hellenic Coast Guard through a life raft. The newspaper later published audio-visual material pointing to the involvement of local Coast Guard officers in the incident.

  • 17 November 2020


    Efimerida ton Syntakton: Push back of 35 refugees who had arrived in a remote area of Samos on 11 November, through reported use of life rafts by the Hellenic Coast Guard. A lawyer who attempted to reach the area was denied access.

  • 19 November 2020


    Alarm Phone provided details of five distress cases where within a period of five days, involving violent push backs at land and sea. The reported incidents took place between 8 and 14 November. One of the incidents involved a distress call to Alarm Phone on 9 November by people on a big sailing boat carrying approximately 60 people fleeing from Turkey towards Italy. According to Alarm Phone, the last known position of the boat was off the coast of the small Greek island of Antimilos. Alarm Phone reports that in communications with the Hellenic Coast Guard, they were informed that the Coast Guard was aware of the incident and was sending assistance help. A few hours later, Alarm Phone received and published a video showing a small Coast Guard vessel towing the sailing boat along the coast of the island. Since then, the fate of the people has been unknown. Alarm Phone noted that pictures of a boat rescued by the Turkish Coast Guard on 12 November match the details of the people and boat in the video it received.

  • 26 November 2020


    New York Times / Der Spiegel, Lighthouse Reports, Bellingcat: Documents point to “a seemingly incessant Ping-Pong of migrant dinghies between Greek and Turkish waters, with Frontex crews on vessels or aircraft in observer status’. One of the incidents documented concerned the witnessing by a Swedish coastguard crew of a push back of a boat full of migrants by Greek coastguard on 30 October of the island of Chios.” Documents reveal that the crew was later advised by a Frontex official not to report it and that the Swedish representative’s attempt to report it at the Management Board meeting on 10 November was suppressed.

  • 26 November 2020


    Der Spiegel, Lighthouse Reports, Bellingcat: According to the report, Frontex Executive Director has been aware of an 18-19 April push back incident since 8 May.

  • 27 November 2020


    Alarm Phone: On 20 October, a sailing boat carrying 197 people was reportedly en route from Turkey to Italy and in distress. According to testimonies given to Alarm Phone by refugees on board, the Hellenic Coast Guard entered to the boat, heavily beat several people and then pushed them back into Turkish territorial waters. Once there, they were reportedly forced into inflatable life rafts and had to wait for the Turkish Coast Guard to pick them up.

  • 28 November 2020


    Der Spiegel, Lighthouse Reports, Bellingcat: During an incident on 10 August 2020, a German boat deployed to Frontex did not rescue a boat carrying 40 refugees but instead blocked it and waited for the Hellenic Coast Guard to push them back into Turkish territorial waters.

  • 30 November 2020


    Aegean Boat Report: Throughout November, out of 63 boats starting their trip towards Greece, 47 boats carrying 1,207 people were picked up by the Turkish Coast Guard. According to Aegean Boat Report, most of those boats have been pushed back by the Hellenic Coast Guard.

  • 1 December 2020


    EU Observer: Evidence of Greece sanctioning push backs from a redacted email chain from Frontex, dated 6 March, made available following a freedom of information request. The emails show that the Hellenic Coast Guard Liaison Officer received orders from his authority to push migrants back to Turkish territorial waters. The redacted emails describe the incident where the Danish crew refused to follow orders to push back a boat located near Kos.

  • 2 December 2020


    Mare Liberum: Testimonies of a violent push back occurring on 30 October relating to 19 refugees who had reached Greek territorial waters, after they were first put in danger by the Hellenic Armed Forces. In its statement, Mare Liberum estimates that around 9,000 people have been pushed back by the Hellenic Coast Guard, Frontex and vessels under NATO command.

  • 8 December 2020


    Der Spiegel, Lighthouse Reports, Bellingcat: Collective expulsion of 18 asylum seekers that had managed to reach the island of Lesvos by Greek authorities on 29 November. The asylum seekers were put on a life raft and were left adrift at sea. The incident is also described by the BBC.

Read more:

A timeline of responses thereon by Greek authorities, EU institutions and agencies and domestic and international monitoring bodies may be accessed here:

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