Press release: Turkish Coast Guard attacks refugee boat in Greek waters

On the morning of November 10th,  the Turkish Coast Guard harassed and allegedly fired shots and injured refugees, while being in Greek waters. When the Hellenic Coast Guard arrived on the scene, 17 refugees jumped out of the dinghy and swam towards the Hellenic Coast Guard. The Turkish Coast Guards loaded the remaining people who could not swim, mainly women and children, on their boat and returned them to Turkey. Mochara assisted the Hellenic Coast Guard in transferring refugees.

At 3.47am, Refugee Rescue boat ‘Mo Chara’ received a request by the Hellenic coastguard to assist in transitioning people to the port of Skala Sykamineas. Upon arrival, Mochara was informed that 17 people had been taken on board from the water and were likely hypothermic. Hellenic coastguard given out emergency blankets, but everybody was distressed and in shock.

Once people made safely to Skala port, they were met by on-shore landing teams, including Lighthouse Relief and Refugee Rescue. Two unaccompanied minors and five people requesting medical attention were identified amongst the arrivals.

Several people told that the original vessel had had up to 37 people on board. Allegedly the Turkish Coast Guard was shooting in the air and threatening the dinghy by shooting into the water. They also allegedly rammed the boat. The Hellenic Coast Guard intervened at that point as the Turkish Coat Guard and the refugee boat were in Greek waters.

According to reports by the arrivals, the Hellenic Coast Guard requested the Turkish authorities to stop firing and assured the people on the boat that they were now in Greek waters. At that point, 17 people jumped from their dinghy into the water and swam to the Hellenic coast guard vessel for safety. According to accounts told to our lifeguard, Richie Heard the Turkish Coast Guard tried to apprehend refugees by using some sort of stick to reach them. In consequence one man suffered a head wound and was later treated at the temporary camp stage 2 in Skala.

Tragically all those who were not able to swim to the Hellenic Coast Guard were loaded onto the Turkish Guard vessel and were brought back to Turkey. Those that made the crossing recount that whole families were separated this way.

These reports demonstrate several clear violations of international maritime law by the Turkish coast guard. Namely, Article 98 (1) of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) calls for every state to assist any person in distress at sea, and the Guidelines on the Treatment of Persons Rescued at Sea (2004) calls for governments to provide safety to people recovered in their search and rescue territory (Resolution MSC.167 (78), para. 2.5).

This report adds to a long list of human rights violations and so-called push backs by the Turkish Coast Guard. We urge the UN Refugee Agency to fully investigate this incident and other similar incidents where people were taken back to Turkey even though they had reached Greek waters.

As shown the EU-Turkey Deal still threatens lives every day. Now it the time to put pressure on authorities that undermine their international obligations and needlessly put lives at risk. This abdication of responsibility by the EU and its member states has no basis in international law.