A comprehensive investigation into the deaths of two migrants from the Ivory Coast and Cameroon as they sought asylum in Europe revealed on Thursday that Greek coastguards were to blame.
Greek security authorities were interviewed during the investigation, conducted by British daily The Guardian and German news website Der Spiegel, as well as the Dutch Lighthouse Reports and French Mediapart online journals. It also evaluated health reports, photographs, videos, and satellite images.
Citing eyewitnesses, the report said Greek border guards took Sidy Keita, an Ivory Coast national, and Didier Martial Kouamou Nana, a Cameroon national, from the Samos Island on Sept. 15, 2021 before pushing them into the sea on a raft, ultimately leading to them drowning.
The Lighthouse Reports said Greece’s border policy in the Aegean was “based on a regime of detaining newly arrived asylum seekers on the Aegean islands and forcing them onto life rafts with no engines, then setting them adrift” towards Turkiye.
After reconstructing the final days of Keita and Nana via “verified witness accounts,” the Lighthouse Reports “found evidence that suggests the men drowned because of a new tactic by the Greek coastguard of throwing small groups of asylum seekers overboard” and making them swim to Turkiye.
Seven witnesses out of 36 migrants who were interviewed as part of the investigation said they clearly remembered the two men reaching the Greek island.
According to The Guardian’s report, lawyers working for the Human Rights Legal Project (HRLP) received “a text from an unknown number informing them of the dinghy’s arrival, with photos taken from the land of a Greek coastguard vessel” spotted in the area of Samos.
“The HRLP emailed local police, the UN refugee agency UNHCR, a member of the European Commission based on the island and the Reception and Identification service for asylum seekers on Samos, informing them of the arrival,” added The Guardian’s report.
Citing the statement by the sole eyewitness Ibrahim — who used an alias — Keita, Nana, and Ibrahim “were driven to a port, put on a speedboat, beaten and thrown into the sea without a life jacket.”
Ibrahim said Keita and Nana both drowned but he was able to swim to the shore “thanks to his time in the Cameroonian navy.”
“Nana’s body was later found floating in the shallows not far from the mainland by the Turkish coast guard,” added the investigative report.
Ibrahim further identified the boat “as a Rafnar, a vessel used by the coastguard on Samos.”
Also including the comments of two Greek officials with their direct knowledge of the coastguard operations, the report said they “confirmed that what Ibrahim described had happened before to asylum seekers.” The whistleblowers had spoken on condition of anonymity, it added.
“The rationale, the sources said, is to avoid using life rafts when possible because they are expensive and any public tender for their replacement might raise questions about their use,” it said.
Thrown into the boat as if ‘garbage’
The Guardian’s report also included a young single mother’s statement, saying that “she was robbed of her money and her baby was thrown into the life raft ‘as if you were throwing a garbage can’.”
Pascaline, who also used an alias, said: “We have to denounce this because it’s inhuman. They hit people in front of us, they traumatized the children.”
EU member Greece has long been criticized by human rights groups for violently detaining irregular migrants and forcibly returning them to Turkiye, in violation of its human rights obligations under EU and international law.
Ankara has repeatedly urged Greece to stop illegal pushbacks, but Athens has denied engaging in the practice.
Evidence from video footage, eyewitness accounts, and international media has also implicated the EU agency Frontex in the illegal and abusive pushbacks.
According to The Guardian and Dutch website De Correspondent, Frontex is no mere spectator to Greek pushbacks, but actively helps these illegal activities.
In 2020, it was estimated that over the preceding three years, more than 70,000 asylum seekers were pushed back to Turkiye by Greece.
But, the EU has been unwilling to crack down on the illegal and abusive practice.
The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), a European network of 103 non-governmental organizations in 39 European countries, told Anadolu Agency there was an unwillingness of EU institutions to act because the general strategy was based on preventing the arrival of people seeking protection, regardless of the costs and consequences.
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