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How Greece has adopted illegal border push-back for refugees explained by a witness

Thousands of people are forced to move to safe areas from countries like Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan and some others due to wars or political witch-hunts in their countries and to apply for asylum in countries they want to live.   At this point, every year, refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and especially from Syria and Pakistan are forced to cross the 191 kilometers border from Turkey to Greece through Meric River.

On these crossings, there were serious push-backs for about three years by the masked people on the Greece side.  Two years ago; a Turkish journalist was pushed-back and spent 22.5 years in prison but it never repeated again until very recently that some Turkish refugees have encountered a similar push-back incident on the Greek side. On April 23rd, Mr. İhsan Erdoğan was one of those who witnessed and experienced the push-back on the Greek side. Deniz Zengin had an opportunity to carry out a Skype interview with Mr. Ihsan Erdogan about the incident.  

-We know that your twin brother was pushed-back to Turkey from Meric River while trying to cross the border -I don’t know if I’m pronouncing the date correct- on 23rd April. He was your twin brother so can we hear the details of the incident from you?

– These things first started on 23 of April. On April 23rd, a group of 11 different people were illegally deported from Greece crossed over to the other side and then returned to Greece in the morning by themselves. This has continued to happen at regular intervals to Turkish refugees and refugees in different nationalities. We’ve heard of things like pushing the boat back. My brother crossed on May 4th, was in the last group, I did not hear such an event after that. On the morning of May 4, my brother and two people next to him… Normally we have heard of people who were seen and pushed back by masked people or the detained and dispatched by masked people or policemen on the way without handing over to the police headquarters. But my brother’s case is a little different.

-Can you tell us exactly what happened? Because now people are wondering; we are talking about 84 people. According to the Geneva Convention on Human Rights, this is a criminal offense, an inter-governmental problem. But we would like to know the exact incident of your brother’s.

— The first time of the incident, my brother’s first crossing time of the river, the time he informed me was 5.51 a.m. He sent me a message from WhatsApp at 5:30 a.m. and, said they’ve passed the Meric with the two men next to him. Then they walked for a while and I asked them to wait in a place where nobody could see them so that they wouldn’t be pushed back and there they began to wait in an area covered with trees from 6.30 a.m. to 7.00 a.m. The reason I did this is to send a mail to the UN, to talk with lawyers and to inform the press and thus to avoid my brother to be deported again. I’ve reached a lawyer in Oristiado. I told the lawyer that my brother had crossed the border (to Greece) but he was afraid of being deported and had sent me a video.

Video reads: ‘My twin I’m in Greece at the moment, but I can’t come to you, I have to surrender to the police before I can come but I’m afraid of yesterday’s illegal deportation.’

My brother sent me the video in Turkish about the deportation. Later I asked him to send it in English because I wanted to publish it in the press. Later, he sent a message in English, and many people heard about our incident.

Then my brother started to wait there. The lawyer told them to come to a certain place so that he could meet them. Then they – I think it was Siminya – they went there and waited for the police to get there. They even sent me a selfie in front of KEP which is an official institution to prove that they are in Greece. You can see clearly the signboard of KEP in photos. It’s the biggest proof that they were here and that they were deported from here. Selfie was taken in front of the KEP building. Then they started to wait there. They waited there for the police from 2.00 pm to 3.30 pm. I was still afraid and asked my brother to send me a live location to track them wherever they go. I was in Athens at that time. I had a plane at 5.00 p.m. to Alexandroupoli. I was planning to go to my brother’s place to meet him. I was going to be able the track him down using live location and interfere if something happens. Then, around 4.00 pm, my brother began to move. They were taken to the Shainomi police station by a police vehicle. At that time the lawyer was following them with his own vehicle but, as my brother told me, the police officers have tried hard to dodge the lawyer. They went in and out of the streets so fast but the lawyer has followed them really good. He followed them until they got to the police station, so as far as I know, the last location of my brother was there.

Photo Credit to Zubeyir Koculu, Euronews.
Photo Credit to Zubeyir Koculu, Euronews.

I was wondering if your brother and his companions were in a state of detention, is that the reason that they had to go in a secret way to the police station, were they noticed?

— No. My brother was waiting in a place where the police officers picked them up already. The officers drove very fast to dodge the lawyer because they knew that the lawyer was following them. So, they were planning on doing something. They tried to dodge the lawyer to avoid witnessing. Then the lawyer sent me the location of my brother. I confirmed the location as I was tracking too. Then I again asked another lawyer from Athens to call the police station and ask them whether my brother was there or not. The lawyer called; they said my brother was there and he was fine. The lawyer said he wanted to talk to my brother and he spoke with him. Then he informed me that he spoke to my brother and he was fine.

At that time, they applied to the police station, how many people were they?

– Three people including my brother. We thought that they had applied to the police station but they did not. We learned it later.

So they got into the police station, they were in the waiting room, they talked to the lawyer, but this incident happened because there was no application to the police station right?

– Yes, exactly. Then I went to the police station around 8.30 pm. The lawyer wasn’t there. I told the officers that my brother was there and that I came from Athens to see him. They told me there was no one there and no one arrived during the day. I was so surprised. I said I know my brother is here. They asked me how and I told them that I was tracking him down. They were surprised and told me that no one was there and got me out of the police station. I was shocked and I immediately called the lawyer who followed my brother. I asked him to come to the station and told him that the officers were saying my brother was not there. He came in 15-20 mins. They spoke in Greek but the lawyer was showing his eyes with his hands to the police. He told them something like he saw my brother entering the station.

I’m going to ask one more thing: the lawyer returns back after seeing them enter, a safe zone, a safe center. The lawyer thinks it’s okay, right?

– Yes exactly. After that, they shouted us, they said to get out of here, and they took us out. Then we went to another place together with the lawyer to be able to publish a video and call for help and I’ve shared a video there on the internet. I told that my brother was in Greece and that there was a danger of him being deported and I called for help.

Later on, on that day we couldn’t reach to my brother. We had to wait till morning. I went to the police station at 8:00 in the morning. I told them that my brother was there yesterday, that I followed him from a live location and asked them to tell me the truth. Police officers told me again that there was no one yesterday and the location I followed was probably wrong. Then they took me out again. They also said that he might have probably been taken to another police station and told me to go there. I went to the other police station in Oristiado which was close to this one. The officers there told me the same thing that there was no application to the station. They sent me to a camp in Flakko telling that my brother could be there.

There are two different buildings: one where the United Nations, one is the first custody place. I went to both of them and asked if my brother was there, and they told me that no one arrived there. I went back to the police station where they first went again around 11.00 am and started to wait there. At 12.20 p.m. my other brother in Turkey called me and told me that my twin brother was in Edirne Gendarmerie Station. First of all, this was very sad news, I asked my brother to talk to his sister and ask her what happened. First, my brother was interrogated by the prosecutor. After a while, they let my other brother talk to my twin brother. My brother asked him what he went through, and my twin started to explain: They had to wait until 7 p.m. in the first police station; they probably waited for the lawyer to leave. This is the lawyer’s estimate. They kept my twin waiting until then. The worst part, the thing that upset us most is: When my brother was going there, he sprained his ankle and his ankle was in poor condition. Despite this, the police have taken his bag, his phone, his money, and his shoes. He was put in a different vehicle in that shape and taken to a different police station. He had nothing else except his clothes.

With barefoot.

-Yes, they put him in a different vehicle and took him to a different place.  There they were camouflaged, masked people. My brother and the other people were very scared. Getting killed, being beaten… they were so scared of these things because they had already heard of such things. They were surprised that the police did something like this. They asked the police why they are doing this. In spite of this, they were taken under custody there. There were other people under custody too other than my brother. Three more Turks and around 15 Syrians were kept in the same custody from 7.30 p.m. till 11 pm. At 11.00 p.m. they were brought close to the Meric with a different vehicle by masked people.

Was your brother in custody while you were there? Didn’t they give you any information about him?

— No. they left the first police station at 7 pm. I went there at 8.30 pm. When I went there, my brother was not there.

At the time of custody, your brother was in that area when you were in that area too. He was not sent yet.

– Yes, but not at the police station I was waiting at but we were very surprised when the police told us that they didn’t see anyone.

The second police station that you were sent to, was it the place that your brother was kept waiting?

-Probably not. Because the police station I was waiting at was not close to the border. They took my brother to a station close to the border; to send them back easily during the night.

This detail is very important. If such an event is experienced again, I think one of the things that people can do is to wait at the border police stations and do the required applications in cooperation with civil society organizations and lawyers to avoid their relatives being sent back.

– We also tried very hard to make an application, but the lawyer could not enter the police station. That was a disadvantage for us. We did not have an official record therefore, a police station in Greece could say “he did not come here”. At 11.00 p.m they left my brother again near the Meric.

refugees 1

-The most asked question was; Was there a Turkish gendarmerie waiting for them?

No, no one was waiting there. They created a fire and waited till dawn. In the morning, the villagers noticed them and informed the gendarmerie. The gendarmerie took them in the morning.

It’s unfortunate. I know there is a prison history for 28 months of your brother. What was the reason for his arrest?

-Someone -who didn’t know my brother- told the police that he saw my brother in a house he went.  (House means here where Gulen followers come together, drink tea and have conversations. Editor’s note.)  

So, we’re facing a confessor who wants to save himself. There are many painful stories. What was the date of arrest and deportation of your brother?

-At 11 pm on the 4th of May.

Could you tell us what you did since May 5? Because there is this situation that Gülsüm Alan from Euro News had a conversation and after that Cevheri Güven, from Bold media, also had initiatives. Athens received warning from the European Commission: We take seriously the allegations of bad treatment against Turkish immigrants and refugees. Violence and abuse against immigrants and refugees are absolutely unacceptable, they said. The number 82 is a very high number and this shows: In the past period, the pushback application to Afghan, Pakistani, Syrian refugees seems to be applied to Turkish refugees now. Related to this, a report was published in 2008 by civil society organizations. This was one of the issues in the report of Human rights 360. 39 people were interviewed liked you and these 39 people explained what happened, how they were beaten. There are people whose teeth were broken, people who were vomiting blood, etc. What are you doing about them? My second question is: We are trying to publish these things on the media. I know now that 11 people sent to the back to Turkey from Greece but somehow, they could return to Greece the next day by finding a boat. I think the villagers have helped them which is an example of benevolence. What do you expect from us? I think the speech of these 11 people will be an important source of illumination. Because, coming to the police station and know that it is not safe there. This is a very serious claim and you are proving this; you say there was a live location and the lawyer confirms it, too. When these are spoken, however, I hope there will be a serious reaction in the European Union commission and this will stop the pushback. What do you expect from us, what kind of action do you think should be taken? What do you want to tell people about not being silent?

– Until now, people from different places have reached me. Greece’s different local newspapers, civil society organizations, lawyers. I’m trying to speak to everyone I can since May 6th, when I returned to Athens. I want it to be known by everyone and I want to create a public reaction about it. There are a lot of people who want to come here and start a new life. I was one of them. I came to Athens 10-11 months ago. To start a new life. The continuation of these pushbacks avoids people in Turkey crossing the border. And to prevent this: we are the ones who are facing this issue. As the press, you need to keep informing people about this and make people not to forget. I’m trying to do whatever I can, too. I’m thinking of opening a court case. I have spoken with the CSR lawyers here. We will have a litigation process and I do interviews with civil society organizations as much as I can. In a few days, I will have a face-to-face meeting with a United Nations official. I think this will be effective, too.

Yes, it is necessary to make people in safe countries to explain the situation to civil society organizations. In every country there are offices of the United Nations, go and tell them the situation. It is necessary to announce with a loud voice that the situation is a serious problem and that it is against human rights conventions. I hope it will be the last and hopefully, many people will express this way and share with the public what they experience so these things will not happen again. Thank you so much for your time with us. 

Thank you for having me.

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Dr. Deniz Zengin
Dr. Deniz Zengin
Deniz Zengin is a journalist and a doctoral researcher focusing on Human Rights and Refugee and Immigration issues.
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