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"If you don't give them money, they beat you"

Date & Time 2023-02-20
Location Near Samos shores
Reported by Anonymous
Coordinates 37.69343606546, 27.011259698268
Pushback from Greece
Pushback to Turkey
Taken to a police station unknown
Minors involved yes
WLTI* involved yes
Men involved yes
Age unknown
Group size 47
Countries of origin Sierra Leone, Kenya, Ethiopia
Treatment at police station or other place of detention
Overall number of policemen and policewomen involved 19
Violence used beating (with batons/hands/other), insulting, forcing to undress, theft of personal belongings, strip searches, pushing people into rafts
Police involved 4 people identified as Greek coastguards on a small boat, wearing black/blue uniforms and masks covering their face. 15 other coastguards on a bigger grey boat with a gun represented at the front.

The respondent is an 18-year-old man from Sierra Leone who experienced 5 pushbacks from Greece to Turkey. 

After explaining to the respondent that we cannot talk about the 5 pushbacks he experienced and that we need to focus on one in order to get as much detail as possible, he decided to talk about the pushback from Samos to Turkey in February 2023, as this is the most recent. 

The respondent reported that they left Turkey on the 19 of February 2023, he explained that they left Izmir around 10pm to reach a town near the coast south of Izmir, he doesn’t remember the name of the town because he wasn’t the one who took care of the map. They reached the city around midnight and then entered the water in a small boat with a small engine and arrived near Samos on 20 February 2023 at around 3 a.m. According to the interviewee, it was cold and raining and there were many waves.

“the water was bad (…) the waves were very heavy”.

He reported that there were 47 people on the boat, around 20 men and the rest of the people were women and children (7 children, including 4 babies and 3 children around 2-3 years old and around 10 pregnant women). The interviewee reported that the people on the boat were from African countries (Sierra Leone, Kenya, Ethiopia). 

The respondent explained that around 3 a.m. (he told us that he looked at his mobile phone at that time) they were close to the shore of Samos and it was possible to see cars on the island. At that time, people identified as coastguards shone lights on them and told them to go back to Turkey. He explained that there was a big boat and a smaller one (like a speedboat), the small boat came close to them and there were 4 coastguards (only men) on it, according to the interviewee they were wearing a black/blue uniform and masks, it was not possible to see their faces, only their eyes. After showing him the photos of the different uniforms that we have in our database, he identified the people pushing them back as Greek coastguards.

The speedboat arrived close to their boat, the coastguards removed the engine and put it in the water, then pushed them close to the larger boat and used ropes to get closer to the larger boat. The respondent explained that the waves were heavy and it was dangerous to come close to the big boat, then the coastguards transferred them all onto the big boat, they pushed them off their boat.

“If you miss the steps you fall.”

The interviewee explained that the big boat was grey with a gun at the front, we showed him a picture of a boat and he recognized the big Hellenic Coastguard vessel. He reported that there were about 15 coastguards on the big boat, that he only saw men, but that he heard a woman’s voice inside the boat. When they arrived on the big boat, they had to go to the back of the boat, the coastguards shouted at them, took their money and mobile phones.

“If you don’t give them money, they beat you because they said you have to have money when you make this kind of journey.”

The interviewee reported that they had to undress when the coastguards asked for the money and phones. He explained that he had to turn his back to the wall, one coast guard put his face and his hands on the wall and another coastguard took off all his clothes including his underwear. He explained that 5 coastguards took part in the strip search, they forced everyone (except the children) to undress in front of everyone and he reported that the coastguards put on gloves, asked the women to open their legs and put their fingers in the women’s vaginas in front of everyone. He also reported that the coastguards had sticks and spray and that they beat them with the sticks and that they beat a pregnant woman on her stomach, the respondent has no news from this woman, he doesn’t know if her baby is doing well.

The interviewee explained that after the strip search they had to hurry to form a line of 5 people and it was not possible for him to put his trousers back on before going to the line. The coastguards shouted to him to put his head down with his hands on his neck, they spoke to each other in Greek and some of them spoke in English « everybody put your head down ». The interviewee explained that it was not possible to look at them and talk to them and that they shouted at them that they had to go back to Turkey and said « Malaka, shut up ». He explained that he didn’t know what « malaka » meant, but one of his transit partners who was with him explained it to him. 

The interviewee explained that they were in lines of 5 people in front of each other and one of the coastguards went between the lines and hit some of them, he reported that he was hit on the back with sticks. Then they went to the front of the boat. 

He explained that when they were at the front of the boat, they were taken close to Turkey and the coastguards put small boats near the big boat, all the people had to stand up and the coastguards pushed them into the small boats : « They push you into the raft, so it was hard to catch it ». At that time he lost two friends (from Sierra Leone, around the age of the interviewee) because the coastguards pushed them and they missed the raft, they fell into the water, it was impossible for them to swim, the water was really hard and the coastguards didn’t rescue them. We asked for more details about the raft, the respondent explained that there were 6 rafts in total, they were orange and circular, we showed him a photo and he told us that it was almost like this (except for the colour).

He then reported that the coastguards left them in the water near Turkey and that they left. According to the interviewee, it was early in the morning (around 5 or 6 a.m.), the place was dark and it was not possible to see where they were going. They tried to call the Turkish coastguards, one of the people on the boat still had his mobile phone and the interviewee didn’t know how it was possible to keep the phone, the Turkish coastguards told them that it was not possible to come. The interviewee explained that the waves brought them to a beach on the Turkish coast and they tried to rescue some women, the interviewee swam with 6 other guys and pushed the boat to the beach and they looked for the bodies of the 2 people who lost their lives but they couldn’t find them. 

We asked the interviewee if the acts he experienced that day were racist for him and he answered in the affirmative : « It was a racist act because I was expecting them to rescue us (…) we don’t have anything, no knife, no gun, we just want to survive ». He expected that they would take them to the Greek coast and then to the camp, but that was not the case and he mentioned that if “white people” came to Africa, they would never be treated like this by “black people”. 

” The people who they are killing, they have family.

[…] Those people in the water are not treating the people seeking refugees at the same level.”