Samos And The Anatomy Of A Maritime Push-Back - By Bashar Deeb

Refugees and migrants have all but stopped arriving on Greek islands amid mounting reports of maritime push-backs. In April of 2020, the UN Refugee Agency recorded a single landing with 39 people. During the same period in 2019, there were 1,856 arrivals by sea. The near-complete drop off follows a border standoff between Greece and its neighbour, Turkey, which shifted its stance in late February, saying that it would no longer prevent the estimated four million refugees and migrants it hosts from crossing into the European Union. 

Greece has denounced what it calls “extortion diplomacy” by Turkey and suspended access to asylum during March. But while the asylum system has officially reopened since April 1, arrivals have not resumed — certainly not to the levels from the past. The Greek government, conscious that push-backs break international law, has briefed national media that it is pursuing a new dogma of “aggressive surveillance” without specifying what this strategy entails. 

First of all, we must establish what push-backs are.

According to the European Convention of Human Rights:
“Push-backs are a set of state measures by which refugees and migrants are forced back over a border – generally immediately after they crossed it – without consideration of their individual circumstances and without any possibility to apply for asylum or to put forward arguments against the measures taken. Push-backs violate – among other laws – the prohibition of collective expulsions stipulated in the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Greece, as well as other EU frontier states such as Croatia, has long been dogged by accusations of push-backs. Respected human rights groups have collected dossiers of witness testimony which typically allege that phones have been confiscated during such operations. However, in the absence of corroborating evidence that these devices might provide, these accusations have largely been ignored.

Maritime push-backs, taking place far from any of the cameras onshore, present an even greater evidential challenge. However, as part of a broader investigation into push-backs conducted jointly with Deutsche Welle, Trouw, and Lighthouse Reports, we have collected evidence to demonstrate how one of these operations worked in practice. The result is the most precisely documented push-back of its kind. 

We verified three videos and gathered the accounts of two witnesses who were themselves pushed back, as well as the account of a relative of one of the victims. We confirmed that the people we see across three separate videos, including footage of these refugees on the Greek island of Samos, are the same. We cross-referenced this with local radio broadcasts reporting their arrival and social media posts by islanders who saw them. 

To read the rest of the artice and see the evidence obtained by Bashar you can see the full article on the Bellingcat website.