2020 was a year of many things. Beset amongst these manifold tragic, scary and outrageous happenings was the rise and quiet systematisation of pushbacks - or refoulement - of refugees from the Greek Aegean islands to the Turkish coast.
A pushback occurs when those crossing borders and seeking asylum are taken forcibly back to their departure country without benefiting from the international right to lodge an asylum application.
Last year was a record year for the low number of arrivals of asylum seekers onto the Aegean islands. On New Year's eve, the Greek PM congratulated his coastguard for the 83% reduction of arrivals in 2020 compared with 2019. Just 9,617 asylum seekers are reported as having arrived onto the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros from 1st January 2020 to 31st December. The total from the previous year stands at 60,609. But there is nothing congratulatory about this massive reduction. It is a barefaced lie.
This lie underwrites a horrendous record of illegalities carried out by the Greek State and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis last year, as thousands of refugees were pushed away from Greece and left stranded in the sea.
This truth is plain to see. As has been recorded by numerous reputed sources (New York Times, Amnesty International, BBC), many more asylum seekers arrived onto the islands but were pushed back or forcibly returned to Turkey in a way that plainly and directly contravenes European and international law.
Yet the Greek Primer Minister continues to state that no such pushbacks occur. In an interview from August with CNN, Mitsotakis claimed those that suggested Greece illegally pushed back refugees were simply spreading ‘misinformation’, stating simply ‘it has not happened’.
But discovering the sheer, scary scale of Mitsotakis’ lies is easy. Here's how. Take a trip over to the Turkish Coast Guard Command website. This highly informative and extremely up-to-date website offers in detail reports on the daily missions and activities carried out by the Turkish Coastguard in the Aegean. And it tells a very different story to that which the Greek PM would like us to believe.
A simple search on the Turkish Coastguard website reveals 218 pushbacks have occurred in 2020. 107 of these occurred when Greek coastguard boats forced refugee boats back into the Turkish water areas. More worryingly, and new to 2020, is incidents of Greek authorities receiving people onto the islands, detaining them, and boarding them on flimsy life rafts and dragging them back out to sea. There are 111 counts of this happening this year.
You can find this information out yourself. Simply head to the Turkish Coastguard Command website, click over to the News section and run a search with the following key terms:
Type in ‘pushed back to Turkish territorial waters’ and run a search detailing each and every incident. This is the phrase used consistently to refer to incidents where boats have been nudged back into Turkish waters.
Type in ‘left to Turkish territorial waters’ and you’ll find 111 counts of life rafts being tugged back out to sea carrying refugees from the Greek islands. Each article is accompanied by photographic evidence of this. You can correlate it with downloadable reports and statistics on the ‘Activities’ section of the website.
Recognising the significance of this dataset and sale of illegal pushbacks is frightening. The rejection of international law continues to go on, unopposed except in slow and ceremoniously bureaucratic ways. Meanwhile, each day, refugees exercising their right to asylum are being left on the high seas in acutely vulnerable states.