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Masked men attack migrant boat off Greek coast

Refugee rights activists warn of increase of illegal ‘pushbacks’ from Greece to Turkey

ACTIVISTS shared footage of a group of masked men attacking a refugee boat carrying around 35 people in waters off the coast of Greece yesterday.

Alarm Phone, an activist network which runs a hotline for refugees in distress at sea, was contacted by two boats carrying around 70 people in total in Greek waters yesterday.

One of the boats left Turkey on Wednesday night and was taking on water when it contacted Alarm Phone in the morning, a spokeswoman for the activists told the Star yesterday.

“They informed us that the Greek police — those are the words they used — had taken their engine, thrown it into the sea and stolen their petrol,” she said.

“They created waves with their boat and tried to push them towards Turkey. That was early this morning. And up until now, no rescue has taken place in the Greek search and rescue zone.

“A while ago we received a video from them, of a boat with masked men attacking it. It’s horrifying, heartbreaking. Children are crying in the video, saying: ‘Mama, mama, mama.’

“We’re doing our best, trying to call the coastguards and to put some pressure so that they actually rescue these people.”

Returning refugees to danger (referred to as refoulement or “pushback”) is a violation of international refugee laws.

Reports of refugees being pushed back to Turkish waters by the Greek coastguard are nevertheless on the increase, warned Marie Read, a spokeswoman for the human rights monitoring ship Mare Liberum, which is based in the Aegean Sea.

“These pushbacks between Greece and Turkey are not new,” Ms Read told the Star yesterday. “But the number of illegal pushbacks has increased dramatically.

“We’ve received reports of the Greek coastguard having disabled the motors of refugee dinghies, leaving them to float without being able to manoeuvre.

“There have also been several eyewitness reports of the refugees making it to dry land and after the Greece coastguard showed up, they disappeared and reappeared somewhere else in Turkey.

“The European Union has failed to condemn these systematic human rights violations. Right now, Turkey is pushing people towards the border in Evros [north-east Greece] again, and they were quick to make a statement about that.

“But when it comes to speaking about the consequences of fortress Europe on refugees, the European Union is absolutely silent.”

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