From dawn on Wednesday August 10, the Greek coastguards were activated off the islands of Rhodes and Karpathos, in the south-east of the Aegean Sea, with helicopters, patrol boats and a tanker to rescue dozens refugees who were in danger on the open sea following the sinking of their overloaded boat, which capsized due to a violent swell. Twenty-nine people, mainly Afghan, Iranian and Iraqi men, were rescued and transported to the neighboring islands of Karpathos and Kos where there is a migrant camp, according to Greek authorities. But between 30 and 50 exiles were still missing on Wednesday according to the port police who had difficulty establishing the exact number of occupants of the ship which left the Turkish shore, only a few kilometers away.
According to the first statements of the survivors, “about 80 people were on board the boat,” said the coast guard initially. But according to their spokesperson, Nikos Kokalas, questioned on the public television channel ERT, ventured the hypothesis that “it is not possible that this boat could transport 80 migrants, there must have been a smaller number of ‘occupiers’, while admitting that the migrant boats “are always overloaded”. Nikos Kokalas also claimed that the majority of passengers “were not wearing life jackets” and that the boat, which left the Turkish city of Antalya, had Italy as its final destination.
For migrants stuck in Turkey and wanting to reach Europe, access to the northern Aegean islands (Lesbos, Samos, Chios) has become increasingly complicated, the presence of the European border surveillance agency Frontex and the Greek coast guard having been reinforced since March 2020 and the illegal refoulement of migrants having become almost systematic. The Forensic Architecture research group has identified and documented on its online platform 1,018 “pushbacks” in the Aegean Sea in just two years (March 2020-March 2022).
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Pushed back into the open sea or detained once on the Greek island and forcibly returned on motorless lifeboats, the migrants are forced to return to Turkey after having often been robbed and abused by the Greek coast guard. This practice is contrary to international law and the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Despite investigations by NGOs and the media, Athens has always denied resorting to these pushbacks.
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