The Aegean Sea has been the stage for another scandal involving Greece and refugees, adding to the woes of those fleeing war and repression. The Greek government has been accused of pushing back refugees, abandoning them at sea and leaving them to be deported from Turkey. Apparently, the New York Times has reported that video footage from early April shows 12 men, women, children, and an infant locked inside an unmarked van and forced into a speedboat on the Greek island of Lesbos before being transferred to a Greek Coast Guard vessel. From that point, the migrants were allegedly abandoned at sea for Turkish authorities to later pick up and bring them to a detention center in the city of Izmir.
This incident has led to an investigation as EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson called it “absolutely unacceptable.” The EU has formally requested Athens to fully and independently investigate the incident, and the EU’s executive branch is ready to take formal steps, as appropriate.
It is vital to remember that pushbacks are illegal, and, as such, violate several international laws and treaties, including the European Convention of Human Rights Protocol and the 1951 Refugee Convention that prohibit collective expulsions and the return of anyone to a country where they could face serious human rights violations.
The asylum seekers were from Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, who had been jumping from one country to another for years, trying to escape war in the Horn of Africa. All of those interviewed had been in Turkey for at least a year, scraping by to earn enough money to be smuggled into Europe. Countries like Poland, Italy, and Lithuania have recently changed their laws to make it easier to deport migrants and punish those who help them. The steady stream of newcomers has reshaped European politics, igniting populist hard-right views against migrants and asylum seekers. The European Commission urged EU countries last March to increase the deportation of failed asylum seekers, saying it was essential to managing orderly migration.