The Hellenic Coastguard is systematically performing brutal pushbacks to Turkey on a daily basis. Meanwhile, European states have failed to condemn those illegal practices. It is apparent that Mare Liberum or other civil actors that are reporting about those crimes against people on the move are unwanted and will most likely face repression in a politically motivated attempt to silence critical voices.
On September 28th a press release was issued by the Greek police stating that there are ongoing criminal investigations against 4 NGOs, 33 individuals associated with them, and 2 ‚third-country nationals‘ „for an organized circuit to facilitate the illegal entry of aliens into Greek territory.“ Furthermore the charges, besides human trafficking, include forming and joining a criminal organization, espionage, violation of State secrets and violation of the Immigration Code.
Neither Mare Liberum nor any other NGO nor individual has been named officially, even though there is a consensus in the Greek media that we will be in the center of the criminal case. Even though the potential allegations are beyond absurd, we take the great effort by the Greek authorities to link us to criminal activities in this harsh political climate seriously. Repression by the Greek authorities towards anyone who is supporting refugees is part of the daily life on Lesvos and other Greek islands and has created a toxic atmosphere of anguish for a while now. But the extent of criminalization and harassment has been increasing exponentially first and foremost for refugees but also for NGOs and solidarity structures under the new right-wing government. Many NGOs or activist networks have seen themselves forced to stop operating on the islands.
This year alone our crew resisted fascist attacks and several attempts of intimidation and stayed on a ship blocked by the German Government. Also, the Greek authorities have criminalized and harassed our crew. In the morning of September 5th, approximately 25 officials of police, Hellenic Coast Guards and special forces stormed on board of the Mare Liberum. The ship was searched for two hours and all phones and computers were confiscated. During the raid, the crew was neither informed of the legal grounds nor of their rights. Furthermore, one of our crew members faced racist treatment by the Greek authorities.
After the raid, four crew-members, some of whom had arrived to Lesvos only a couple of days before, had to stay in the police station for almost 6 hours. There was no official arrest, nor interrogation. For what reason did they take our crew in? We are still waiting for an official explanation and for the return of all electronic devices.
Mare Liberum has been monitoring human rights in the Aegean since 2017 and advocates for the rights of refugees. We are now being targeted for our documentary work and for exposing systematic crimes against humanity committed by the Hellenic Coast Guard in cooperation with Frontex and NATO. These actors have created a tight militarized net to keep refugees from reaching European soil by any means necessary, illegal ones included. Refugees in the Aegean are exposed to excessive violence including the use of firearms, severe beatings and being abandoned at sea in seaunwothy life rafts.
Mare Liberum has researched that since March 2020 more than 7.300 people have been brutally pushed back. We are looking at 7.300 cases of human rights violations on top of 7.300 personal tragedies. And the facts are out there and available for the public. International mainstream media have reported about the pushback practices in the Aegean Sea. Yet all European States have failed to condemn these criminal operations which signal to the approval of the illegal and inhumane methods being used.
At this stage, we cannot oversee the risk for our organisation and for members of our crew. Hence, it would not be responsible to put our crew in physical danger on bord of the Mare Liberum at this time. We will therefore temporarily suspend our mission on the ship. This was a very hard decision to make but it does not mean that we will stop working altogether. We will use the time for some much needed maintenance and will regularly evaluate the situation and take up our operations on the ships as soon as possible.
In the meantime we will not be silenced, we will continue exposing the atrocities committed in this European external border region, to stand up against injustice and to advocate for the rights of those who are on the move. We call for the EU governments to protect refugees from arbitrary violence, from illegal pushbacks and from inhumane camps. Now, we also feel impelled to call for solidarity concerning our protection – the protection of our crew from preposterous yet dangerous criminilazation.
Mare Liberum, 06.10.2020