On Friday morning, members of the Turkish Coast Guard fired gunshots and physically attacked refugees outside of their territorial waters in a clear violation of Maritime and International Law. Instead of helping those in distress at sea according to UNCLOS regulations, they stirred panic and forced 20 refugees back to Turkish shores. Greek Coast Guards called a volunteer rescue team to help transfer 17 people to Lesvos. Richard Heard was one of the Refugee Rescue crew members present that night. This is what he witnessed:
“At 3.47 am, we launched our rescue boat. On location, a member of the coast guard greeted us and said: ‘What the Turkish did was horrendous. They are like animals, there was no reason for their brutality.’ I saw that two refugees indeed had injuries to their faces.
After talking to several refugees we understood what had happened. Apparently, the Turkish Coast Guards approached the refugees’ dinghy, started shooting in the air and then rammed them. Soon, one of the Turkish Coast Guards himself used a hand gun to fire into the water around the dinghy.
When the Greek Coast Guards arrived, they asked the Turkish Coast Guard to stop shooting and return to Turkish waters. At this moment, 17 refugees jumped out of the dinghy and started to swim towards the Greek ship. The Turkish Coast Guards tried to apprehend them and it seems like they were using a stick or something similar as several refugees had quite substantial cuts in their faces. The Turkish Coast Guards loaded the remaining people who could not swim, mainly women and children, on their boat and returned them to Turkey.
I witnessed how stressed the Greek Coast Guards were about the incident. It’s just atrocious that Turkish authorities would do something like this. We call on the European Union to stop cooperating with Turkey as long as practices like these continue.”
We urge the UNHCR to investigate this incident
The aid organisations Refugee Rescue and Lighthouse Relief have sent a statement of concern to the UNHCR today. Together with them, we urge officials to not close their eyes to obvious violations of Maritime and International Law.
“As members of the north shore emergency response group in Lesvos, Greece, we are deeply concerned by reports of an illegal pushback in Greek waters at approximately 2:50 – 3:35 AM today, 10 November 2017, as well as allegations of violent behaviour by the Turkish coastguard. […]
We accordingly urge the UN Refugee Agency to fully investigate this incident and the broader trend of illegal pushbacks in Greek waters, and put pressure on authorities that undermine their international obligations and needlessly put lives at risk. This abdication of responsibility by the EU and its member states has no basis in international law.”
Read the full statement here: STATEMENT OF CONCERN_UNHCR
We as civil society are #MonitoringDirtyDeals and do not accept human rights violations in the name of migration control! Find more incidents in our interactive map of the Aegean sea:
Interview: Theresa Leisgang
Photo: Richard Heard / Refugee Rescue