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When they put us inside the vessel they put us at gunpoint again.

Date & Time 2020-10-11
Location South of Mytilene, left at sea between Turkey and Lesvos (39.043526, 26.750051)
Reported by Mare Liberum
Coordinates 39.023525, 26.613584
Pushback from Greece
Pushback to Turkey
Taken to a police station yes
Minors involved yes
WLTI* involved yes
Men involved yes
Age unknown
Group size 24
Countries of origin Syria, Sierra Leone, Somalia
Treatment at police station or other place of detention
Overall number of policemen and policewomen involved around 10 police officers plus Hellenic and Turkish Coast Guards
Violence used beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, pushing people to the ground, threatening with guns, gunshots, destruction of personal belongings, theft of personal belongings, exposing to the sea
Police involved Greek police, Hellenic and Turkish Coast Guard

On the 10th of December around 12:00, the respondent along with 23 other people-on-the-move left the Turkish coast from a small village near Izmir. The transit group included pregnant women and children, and generally there were more women than men. At around 1:00am, the dinghy landed on the Greek Island of Lesvos, south of Mytilene close to Agria Kratigou (Mytilene, Lesbos 811 00). 

After arriving, the respondent recalls someone from the transit group calling the UNHCR. The UNHCR responded, saying they would come rescue the transit group, and asked for their location. The person on the phone with the UNHCR sent their location, and the UNHCR informed them that they were one hour away. Someone from the transit group called again in the morning, and the UNHCR informed them that they were 70 km away, and had informed the authorities of the location of the transit group. the respondent recalls the UNHCR official telling them that the police would take their group to the camp. Familiar with accounts of pushbacks by the police on Lesvos, the people from the transit group had expressed concern to the UNHCR official that the police would not take them to the camp, but instead hand them over to the coast guard to be returned to Turkey.

“collect our phones and push us back to Turkey and leave us in the Mediterranean Sea and we don’t want to lose our lives.”

The UNHCR official on the phone assured them this would not happen, and told them to move towards a road. 

As soon as the transit group reached a road, 10 police officers arrived in SUVs. People from the transit group expressed to the police that they wanted to move towards Mytilene, but were prevented from doing so by the police, who made them stand at the point of apprehension. The police later moved the transit group to a spot in the bushes, where the officers started to take the phones and belongings of those in the transit group. The police informed the transit group that they would have to wait for one hour until a vehicle would come to take them to the camp. 

The police began to beat people from the transit group. The respondent recalls people from the transit group being kicked by police officers, hit with black batons, and held at gunpoint. A pregnant woman was pushed to the ground. The police officers collected the rest of the transit group’s belongings and papers, and burned them. 

A vehicle arrived, and the transit group was loaded inside. The van drove about 9 km away from Mytilene, and were then put on HCG ribs/speed boats to be transported onto a small panther class coast guard vessel. The respondent recalls the last two numbers on the HCG vessel’s registration number being 18, suggesting that it could have been HCG vessel LS-618. 

“When they put us inside the vessel they put us at gunpoint again. They were hiding us. They said for the Greek police not to see us. They were beating us and told us to sit down. Some of us, we were pretending as if our head is aching, so were are watching the officers. Just for us, to identify them. The vessel went for about one hour. “

The HCG vessel drove for one hour towards the Turkish coast. The transit group was then forced to board what the respondent describes as “balloon boats,” which likely refers to the orange and black inflatable life rafts often used in the event of pushbacks. The respondent recalls that at the time they were forced to board the life raft, there was already air leaking out of the inflatable raft. The HCG vessel quickly left. 

“In that moment, we managed to hide two phones, we decided to call the Turkish police for them to rescue us. Because water was almost entering inside the boat now. “

Using phones they had been able to hide from the police, people from the transit group called the Turkish Coast Guard. The already-deflating life raft was taking on water. The transit group was rescued by the Turkish Coast Guard and taken to an office in Izmir, before releasing them.