‘The immigrants drowned after being thrown into the sea by the Greeks’

At least nine migrants have drowned after members of a special unit of the Greek coast guard threw them overboard. This is reported by the BBC in the documentary Dead Calm: Killing in the Med, broadcast on Monday night.

The BBC analyzed fifteen incidents at sea, between May 2020 and May 2023. The broadcaster analyzed incidents where the Greek coast guard threw migrants directly into the sea and cases of migrants sent overboard on boats that sank. In total, at least 43 people died, the station concluded based on information from local media, NGOs and the Turkish coast guard.

A man from Cameroon, who arrived on the Greek island of Samos in September 2021, says he wanted to register there as an asylum seeker. He was met by masked police officers who beat him and two other West African men. They were then put on a boat and the officers threw them into the water one by one. “The man from the Ivory Coast said: save me, I don’t want to die… In the end, only his hand was left out of the water, which slowly slipped under the surface and disappeared among the waves.”

Sinking ships

Greece has long been accused of returning migrants to the sea before they reach the coast. setbacks. But even less was known that on the Greek islands immigrants are also persecuted, arrested and returned to sea in sinking boats, or even thrown directly into the water. If it is not a murder, it is still illegal, because anyone who sets foot on EU territory can apply for asylum. The lawyer of the Cameroonian who survived wants Greek authorities to open a double murder case.

The question is whether Greece will take charge of the matter. The country has always denied having ordered the returns. In the BBC documentary, Dmitaris Balkas, former head of the coast guard’s special forces, categorically denies that his forces pursue migrants on the island, turn them back or even throw them into the water. When the BBC shows him a video of refugees, including babies, being pushed back to sea in a small boat, he says on camera that the Greek coast guard “does not deal with illegal matters.”

But during the break, when Balkas forgets that his microphone is still on, he asks his colleague: “I didn’t say too much, did I?” I don’t understand why they [de kustwacht, red.] I did this in daylight. It’s not nuclear physics, it’s… clearly illegal. It is an international crime.”

Covert date via Tinder

Dutch journalist Romy van Baarsen, who appears in the documentary, also heard from a Greek coast guard commander that the minister had to send asylum seekers back to sea, whether for better or worse.

Van Baarsen, who was in Samos seeking research and assistance, sparked the outpouring with a rather unconventional method: a covert date on Tinder. “I actively searched for a member of the special forces,” he says. Fidelity. It’s not an obvious method, he thinks. “But there is a culture of secrecy on the island. There is much evidence, photographs and videos from the refugees themselves about these expulsions. But the Greek Prime Minister calls that kind of evidence Turkish propaganda. I thought: someone from inside has to confirm that this is happening.”

Romy van Baarsen

After briefly swiping on Tinder, she meets the man. ‘Special Forces’ He even has it in his biography. “I had a photo of him in his uniform,” she says.

When the two meet at a restaurant, he tells them that Minister Christos Stylianides has ordered the coast guard to return the migrants. “To tow their boats with a rope. If they do not stop a boat with migrants, they will be punished,” he says. It is the first time that an employee of the Greek special forces admits in a recording to having sent migrants back to sea on the islands.

‘This man was really proud of his work’

In the recording of the conversation, which can be heard in the BBC documentary, the man can be heard showing his knives. He says he “sometimes throws it away.” “This man was really proud of his work,” sighs Van Baarsen. “These people feel like they are doing this for the Greek flag. If European policies become stricter, so will Greek reactions. And that sometimes has fatal consequences.”

Greek authorities will investigate BBC footage. According to the rescue organization Consolidated Rescue Group, “several Mediterranean coast guards are committing human rights violations, but Greece is number one.” How could the coast guard act like this if they can’t get an agreement from above? Someone gives the orders and the Coast Guard goes with them.”

Also read:

Pressure on Athens increases due to illegal “expulsions” of refugees

There are increasing signs that Greece is guilty of the so-called refugee expulsions. However, Athens continues to deny that it is illegally returning migrants across the border.

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