“We are refugees, we want to apply for asylum”

  • Date and time: December 3, 2020 12:00
  • Location: Lesvos
  • Coordinates: 39.1567784, 26.5214766
  • Pushback from: Greece
  • Pushback to: Turkey
  • Demographics: 30 person(s), age: 10 months to 50 years , from: Somalia, DR Congo
  • Minors involved? Yes
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), theft of personal belongings, left adrift at sea
  • Police involved: 2 undercover police officers, 5 “masked men”, one female officer in Greek police uniform, 10 HCG officers with balaclavas, one HCG RHIB, one HCG panther boat, one dark blue van
  • Taken to a police station?: yes
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention: detention, no translator present, denial of access to toilets, denial of food/water
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: Yes
  • Reported by: josoor

Original Report

On Thursday, December 3rd, a group of 30 left from Ayvalik around 10pm  to cross the sea to Lesvos. At around 2am, they were several meters from Greek shore at 39°10’02.2″N 26°32’12.8″E, when an HCG boat approached and started chasing the dinghy. The respondent and 12 others jumped into the water and swam to shore. The other 17 people stayed behind as there were many old people and women who could not swim.

 

The respondent and the other 12 observed from the shore how the HCG boat apprehended the dinghy, took the rest of the group on board and started taking all their stuff from them while hitting them with batons and hands.

The respondent and his companions ran into the forest to hide. From there, he called NGOs for help but they did not pick up.

They tried climbing a mountain but it was so steep that they kept slipping so they decided to discard all their belongings except their phones. Eventually, they made it up the hill. They discussed what to do and eventually decided to keep walking. They entered the village of Pamfila and found a church and went inside. The respondent had the location saved and is thus certain it was the church of St. Barbara. He also confirmed it when asked to look at a picture. A Greek man working at the church told the group “don’t worry, you can stay here until the father comes, he will be here in a few hours.” This was around 6am.

 

However, after around 20 minutes, two men arrived. They were wearing civilian clothes but the respondent believes it might have been undercover officers. They talked to the man working in the church after which he told the group to leave the church immediately.

The two men followed the group and asked them in English who they were and what they were doing there. The group responded saying: “we are refugees, we want to apply for asylum.”

 The two men told them to wait and called someone. After a few minutes, five men in black clothes wearing balaclavas and a female officer in Greek police uniform arrived in a dark blue van (unmarked).

 

The respondent recalls that again, a member of the group said:

“we are refugees, we want to apply for asylum.”

 

One of the masked men told them “don’t worry, we will take you to a camp.” They asked the respondent and his companions for their phones and took them.

 Among the group of 13 there was a minor girl. The female officer searched her body and found her phone and took it as well.

The group was then ordered to get into the van and they complied. After a 10-15 min drive, they arrived at a detention site. The respondent explains it was not an official police station, there were no police signs. The respondent remembers a box with the UNHCR logo printed on it. There were several containers and they were taken into one of them. The container was empty – no chairs, no mattresses. The same officers brought them food and water.

 After around two hours of detention in the container, the same officers took them out of the container and into the van that previously took them to the detention site. This time they drove for around 1 hour. The van had no windows so they could not look outside. When the car stopped, they were ordered to get out and found themselves at the coast.

There were 6 men wearing the HCG uniform and balaclavas. They were not carrying assault rifles but pistols.

The respondent recalls no buildings, but there was a wooden jetty. The group was ordered to board an HCG RHIB.  One of the HCG officers drove them for around 10 min to an HCG panther boat and they were transferred onto it, where several other HCG officers in uniform and with balaclavas were waiting.  The panther boat drove for around 1 hour when they put them on one orange life raft and left them adrift. One hour later, the Turkish Coast Guard arrived and took them to Behram where they were released.

 Once they were back and the respondent organised a new phone, he learned that the other 17 people of their original group had been pushed back on life rafts right away the night before.