The respondent, a 17 year old male from Afghanistan, was apart of a transit group instructed to spend two nights in the forest, somewhere between Izmir and Çanakkale in Turkey. On the night of 2nd of June 2020, smugglers told the transit group to walk to the shore which took roughly two hours. At 20:00 they arrived at the shore where five-six Turkish people were preparing a dinghy which they made the group carry into the sea. At 21:15, the transit group boarded the boat and left the Turkish coast.
At approximately 02:00 after five hours at sea, the Greek Coast Guard (HCG) detected the transit group, who were allegedly five minutes off the coast of Lesvos. The respondent alleged he saw a large boat but was blinded by a strong spotlight so he could not make out any descriptive details. A smaller boat approached the transit group and destroyed and removed their dinghies engine. With a hook on a stick (like a spear), the transit group were beaten by authorities; one group member was injured during the attack, with several cuts on his head and face. The HCG then attached a rope to the dinghy and towed it towards Turkish waters.
The respondent alleges that the Turkish Coast Guard (TCG) tried to intercept the pushback and described it as if the TCG and HCG
“were creating waves trying to drown each other”
The TCG cut the rope between the HCG and their dinghy, after which the HCG withdrew from the situation. The TCG asked the transit group which countries they were from and where the HCG had picked them up. After answering these questions, the TCG left the transit group in their dinghy in the sea; they spent the rest of this first night and the next morning alone at sea.
On 3rd June 2020 around 12:00-13:00, another boat with three people approached the transit group and advised they would help and take them to a camp if they threw their life-vests and rubber rings away. Some transit group members complied, however others did not so one of three individuals entered their dinghy and threw all of their rubber rings and life-vests into the sea. The man who entered their dinghy was wearing a mask and dressed in all black; the other two were wearing navy blue uniforms. They attached a rope to the dinghy and told the transit group they would be taken to a Greek camp, but started towing the dinghy towards Turkey. The TCG intercepted the situation like the night before and created waves until the Greek boat drove away; again, afterwards, the TCG left the transit group out in the ocean alone, however this time, water was entering their dinghy. The respondent alleges that the transit group could see Lesvos but not Turkey, so they decided to try and paddle towards the island.
Throughout their journey, the respondent alleges members of the transit group were calling 112 and the HCG as instructed; the TCG advised the transit group that they were in Greek waters and were unable to intervene. During this time, members of the group became desperate and emotional. One member was a woman with a small baby, who was unconscious on board for a few hours.
The respondent alleges that the HCG was constantly watching the transit group and created waves to block them from reaching the island. The respondent texted his friend in Turkey, saying that if he did not hear from him again, he should call his siblings to tell them he had died so they would not wonder where he was. The respondent alleged he was trying to organise help for the transit group, so he felt that he could not show his emotions as the other members were relying on him; he did not want them to see that he was crying too, so he turned his face towards the water, pretending to paddle, when in reality he was crying.
On 4th June 2020, from 05:00, the respondent alleges he attempted to contact the UNHCR numerous times but was unsuccessful. After this, he streamed the situation live on Facebook and requested access to two groups for support. Two-three hours later he was accepted to the Information Point for Lesvos Group where he posted his videos from their situation and went live with a new video.
In one of the videos, the respondent describes and films one large and two smaller vessels of the HCG as they created waves to push the dinghy back to Turkish water. The respondent can be heard saying,
“another boat is coming also, and it will push again. And a third one is behind them. You can see clearly. And they are ready to push us back and back again and again. We were just near there and they are pushing us back, back and back towards Turkey. This is not fair”
At 11:00 a German vessel approached their dinghy and immediately told the transit group,
“don’t worry we are from Germany and we will help you“
The respondent described everyone on the dinghy crying in relief. One officer asked the group where they wished to go; the respondent said somewhere safe and happy. The officers gave the transit group water and chocolate, and asked if they wanted to go to Turkey or Greece; the respondent told them to Greece, as they were closer and had just spent 38 hours at sea after leaving Turkey. After five minutes of talking on a radio, the officer told the group that their videos had been seen –
“don’t worry, be patient, you are safe”
The German boat’s towed the dinghy towards shore, with a second German boat trailing behind (as shown in image below).
On shore, an old woman and some men who had been swimming came to meet the transit group. They had a camera and gave the transit group water. Some of the group member were scared and ran away, however the swimmers were from an NGO which had been helping refugees for 40 years.
One hour later, police arrived and told the transit group to clean their mess up; so they collected the trash from their journey (including rubbish and their dinghy) and threw it away. The police made them walk for one hour to a spot where they reunited them with those who had run away earlier. Together the transit group walked another 30 minutes to a spot, where police told them they would stay for the next few days. The respondent alleges it was in the middle of nowhere.
A man waiting at the spot advised he was from the United Nations (UN), and asked the transit group for their personal information (names, age, nationality). The respondent alleges this man called the Afghani’s Taliban; the respondent said maybe he was trying to joke, but it wasn’t funny. The man gave the transit group food and sleeping bags, but told the group he would punish them if asked again, after a group member requested cigarettes. The police remained at the spot with the man and watched the transit group in shifts.
On 5th June 2020, five officials approached the transit group and tested all members for COVID19. The UN representative also came back twice to give them food, however on the second time, the respondent alleges the police took the food for themselves.
On 6th June 2020 at 22:00, police officers arrived and took the transit group in multiple vehicles – seven in a police car (including the respondent) and the rest on a bus. The respondent described the car as one that is made for arrests – no windows and just a small hole for air. The officers did not tell the group anything except repetition of the same message,
“you will be deported”
The respondent alleges the vehicles arrived at a camp and were welcomed by others. Some individuals claimed they had been there for more than a month. The respondent alleged that there were roughly 250 people at the camp, with no shower or electricity, and no where near enough tents.