legalcentrelesvos.org | 17 January 2023
PRESS RELEASE: Forensic reconstruction video released today, evincing the Greek authorities’ illegal expulsion of 200 migrants off the coast of Crete in 2020
In October 2020, nearly 200 people who had departed from Turkey to seek asylum in the European Union were caught in a storm off the coast of Crete, Greece. Finding themselves in a state of emergency, the passengers made a distress call to the Hellenic Coast Guard requesting assistance. Greece confirmed that they received an emergency call on 20 October 2020 from a boat in distress off the coast of Crete. However, what happened next is what is at dispute in the case S.A.A. and Others v Greece (app. no. 22146/21), before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The Applicants, eleven passengers from the boat who are represented by Anastasia Ntailiani of the Legal Centre Lesvos, testified that, following their emergency call, the Greek authorities illegally and violently expelled them towards Turkey, ultimately abandoning them on life rafts at sea. The case was communicated by the ECtHR to Greece in December 2021; to date, the Greek authorities have denied that the pushback took place.
Legal Centre Lesvos publishes today a forensic reconstruction video, linked here, produced by an independent forensic research team. The team held interviews with survivors of the pushback, analysed testimonies and available evidence of the pushback, including evidence from Greek authorities and Frontex, and produced a reconstruction video of the events on 20-21 October 2020. The video demonstrates that the Hellenic Coast Guard, instead of rescuing the approximately 200 people who were in distress at sea, they violently attacked, detained, and ultimately abandoned them at sea in a massive coordinated and illegal pushback operation.
The Greek state, in its filings before the ECtHR in June and November 2022, completely denies that the pushback took place. It asserts that, after receiving the distress call on 20 October 2020, no fishing boat was found. The State’s principal argument is that because they did not keep (or produce) records of the Applicants’ presence in Greece – as they are mandated to do by law – the Applicants must not have entered Greece and therefore were not pushed back. Furthermore, the State asserts that Greece and its officers – as a matter of policy – do not conduct pushback operations, and thus the expulsion must not have occurred. The State makes these claims without substantively engaging with any of the Applicants’ submitted evidence, which includes GPS locations, photos and videos of their presence within Greek territory and the subsequent attack. The Greek State also attempts to distract from the Hellenic Coast Guard’s culpability with a red herring: that Turkey is supposedly a safe country, and that the individuals seeking asylum in Europe prior to the State’s pushback should never have attempted the journey. This is not only irrelevant, given that the ECtHR is examining only whether the Greek authorities’ conduct towards the Applicants amounted to abuses of their right to life and the prohibitions on torture and unlawful detention, but is also manifestly untrue.
The evidence, including the forensic reconstruction published today, not only illustrates that the Greek authorities conducted this violent pushback and therefore is liable for the associated human rights violations, but also that this operation was consistent with the Greek authorities’ systematic practice of collective expulsions that has been extensively documented and reported – both before and since the time of the events in question.
S.A.A. and Others v Greece is the fifth legal action filed by LCL lawyers before the ECtHR, representing survivors of illegal and violent expulsions from Greece. It is among 32 pushback cases communicated to Greece a year ago by the ECtHR, all of which were filed between December 2020 and August 2021 and concern migrants who had arrived to Greece with the intention to seek asylum and were instead met with violence, humiliation, and torture at the hands of Greek authorities, before being abandoned at sea or violently returned to Turkey via the Evros border.
As human rights defenders we understand the complex and multifactorial process in order for an application to succeed. However, given the dismal reality of the current national political context, where there is on the one hand a complete denial by the authorities of pushbacks happening at Greece’s sea and land border and on the other hand a continuous attempt to criminalise and marginalise people and organisations in the field and refugees themselves, the ECtHR offers an opportunity to pierce the ongoing impunity and to restore a sense of justice which is more imperative than ever. In the case of S.A.A. v. Greece, a massive and violent pushback operation took place. The court has, in our opinion, all the necessary evidence at its disposal to condemn the violations committed against the Applicants.
Anastasia Ntailiani, LCL lawyer representing the Applicants in S.A.A.