The Story of Mikail and the Greek Pushbacks

In a recent Aegean Boat Report (see article attached) there were 44 people including children that were part of a militia like pushback the end of November 2021 off the Greek coast. The documentation by these refugees and what they endured is all too familiar. It should boggle one’s mind that we live in a time where coast guards and rescue boats have turned into full blown militia units where men, women and children are beaten, raped, humiliated, and pushed back out to sea to drown or return to a country they are trying so desperately to escape from. People don’t leave home because they want to. They leave home because they have to. We need to continue to draw attention to these illegal stunts at the cost of human life like those working for the Aegean Boat Report.

Only some of the stories make it into the news or on social media about the harrowing journeys refugee’s encounter at sea or in rivers.  There are pushbacks and drownings happening every day and the world has become desensitized to it. Fighting for the common good continues to become more difficult when there are less people fighting for justice. It shouldn’t be that we only fight for justice when it affects us personally. It should matter all the time. I found it important to share this story and make it known that this isn’t something new that is happening. I believe the more stories that are documented and the more stories that are told will create more knowledge for people to act and call out for justice and the right to human dignity.

It was April 26, 2019, at 4:00 pm when 11 people landed close to the village of Lagina, Greece. There were 8 adults and 3 children (all under 9 years old) that crossed the Evros River to escape persecution by the Turkish regime. One of the women was 8 months pregnant, another was disabled and alone with her two small children and two were over the age of 65. The hope for all of them was to arrive in a land of refuge, one they could feel safe in and one that they could bring their children to. I sat at a café in Athens across from Mikail, a broken but determined man who desperately wanted to tell his story. He started by telling me about the terrible afternoon of April 26.

“When we arrived on the Greek shores, we walked into the village where we were met by a police car, and escorted to a secluded area. “The male police were behaving ugly. They took our ID cards, and phones and put it all in a plastic bag. After some time, a closed minibus (a Peugeot) arrived. We were pushed into the bus that was full of trash. We soon found ourselves back at the river. They told us to get out and when the doors opened, we faced off with soldiers and police. It was so frighting. We said we only wanted to make applications as refugees, we told them we were victims of the regime in Turkey. They told us they would reject us and push us back and anyone else who came over from now on. They shoved us to the boat and pushed us back in the river. We even told them that if we went back, we would endure heavy torture and unlawful prison sentences. That is when they started to hit us with wooden bats. One of the bats hit a body so hard that it broke. It was at that moment that we realized we had seen the same bats in the Sofuli police stations while we were being held in detention and where we should have had our paperwork for asylum processed.”

Mikail went on to tell me that this was a violent experience, the older woman in the boat was dragged, they were kicking and pushing all of them except the children. Bats were hitting their backs and legs. One of the men had his knee reversed which turned into a permanent injury for him. The pregnant woman was dragged even though they were yelling about her situation.  

“The children were crying and screaming will they kill us mommy?” After this torture they pushed us into a boat and one of the masked men pushed one of us carrying the phones into the water. They retreated when they shoved us into the river. We immediately tried to retrieve the phone bag once they left and luckily, we found it and one of them still worked. It was dark and we had to make our way to the forest on the Turkish side. We were all wet, hungry, and thirsty with no food or water. We had 200 ml of milk that we shared between all of us, but it wasn’t enough, and we had to drink the river water.”

That night it wouldn’t just be the fear of the Greek police/soldiers that pushed them back but fear of being detained by the Turkish soldiers. In the morning they crossed the river again and had to wait for many hours on the Greek side of the water. One of the men on the boat was able to call his journalist friend and he announced everywhere about their situation. Mikail said

“After those two police cars came, they took us to the Soufli police station, the same one we were detained in. These new police officials were very polite. On our second day in the detention center, an advocate came but some officials advised us not to speak with them. Since we were frightened to get pushed back again, we did what they said. On the last day in the center, a UN member came and talked with us. We didn’t talk with him in the cage, he told us to wait until we were out. In the meantime, we saw the commander who was speaking Turkish to some of the military group that had tortured us near the river. We were able to show him to the UN member. After we were released, we talked with the UN member about the details. We told them that we saw bats and military uniform dress hanging in a room at the detention center.”

He looked unsettled and still anxious about their safety. The children were having nightmares and were waking up shouting wanting to know if those bad police would come back or not. Mikail and those with him were in a tough position. Since they didn’t have any asylum cards they couldn’t go to the hospital, and they couldn’t submit a report about the torture. Unfortunately, too often human rights abuses are never officially reported.

This is only one of many stories that of those arriving on Greek shores who were met with what seemed to be Turkish speaking soldiers or police wearing Greek police uniforms. Some also had long beards and batons or bats to beat those arriving. In most of the stories their phones and belongings were thrown in the water, and they were pushed back into the open sea water in the night. Could it be that the Erdogan regime was paying off Greek police, or there were Turkish police working undercover? Many have told me for the most part the Greek police were helpful and would take the Turkish refugees escaping persecution and lead them to safety where they were given blankets, food, and water while their paperwork got processed. Mikail, like thousands of others had a different experience. Mikail represents for us the millions of refugees around the world seeking freedom that have been pushed back into open seas and many times by soldiers and people hired from the same countries they were trying to escape from. The writer of the The Aegean Boat Report asked a great question we should all try to answer, “Should the human race survive long enough, people will look back at this and ask: ‘How?’ How could the wealthiest political unit ever to have existed have sunk to such depths that it would allow one of its member states to savage vulnerable men, women and children in this way?”

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