Greece Says It Doesn’t Ditch Migrants at Sea. It Was Caught in the Act.


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The Greek government did not respond to repeated requests for comment. But campaigning on Lesbos last week ahead of general elections on Sunday, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis defended his government’s “tough but fair” migration policies and boasted of a 90 percent drop in the arrival of “illegal migrants.”

The government has consistently denied mistreating asylum seekers and points to the fact that it shoulders a disproportionate burden of managing new arrivals to Europe.

But the video, provided by an Austrian aid worker, Fayad Mulla, who has spent much of the past two and a half years working on the island and trying to document abuses against migrants, may be the most damning evidence yet of the Greek authorities’ violation of international laws and E.U. rules governing how asylum seekers must be treated.

In addition to interviewing the asylum seekers in Turkey, The Times verified the footage by doing a frame-by-frame analysis to identify the people in the video, geolocating key events and confirming the time and day using maritime traffic data, as well an analysis of the position of the sun and visible shadows.

We showed the video in person to three senior officials from the European Commission in Brussels, describing how we had verified it. Later, in written comments, the Commission said that it was “concerned by the footage” and that, though it had not verified the material for itself, it would take the matter up with the Greek authorities.

Greece “must fully respect obligations under the E.U. asylum rules and international law, including ensuring access to the asylum procedure,” said Anitta Hipper, the European Commission spokeswoman for migration.

The Greek authorities declined requests to meet in person to review the video.

Greece and the European Union hardened their attitudes toward migrants after the arrival in 2015 and 2016 of more than one million refugees from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. The wave of newcomers reshaped European politics, igniting populist hard-right forces who played on nativist angst.

Greece is far from alone in cracking down on migrants. Poland, Italy and Lithuania have recently changed their laws to make it easier to repel migrants and to punish those who help them.

But the new videos suggest that the Greek authorities have gone still further, resorting to surreptitious extrajudicial expulsions that sweep up even the most vulnerable with the participation of its maritime forces.

“Through the will of God, we managed to survive,” Ms. Aden said.

It was just after midday on April 11 that a white unmarked van drove down to a small cove with a wooden dock at the southern tip of Lesbos, according to Mr. Mulla’s video.

As the van wound down to the coastline, two men waiting in a speedboat covered their faces with what appear to be ski masks. When the van stopped, three men emerged, unlocked the back doors — and out filed 12 people, several of them small children.

The passengers included Ms. Aden and her baby, Awale, with whom she had originally fled Jilib, a small city in an area of Somalia controlled by Al Shabab, a militant group linked with Al Qaeda, she said. Ms. Aden said they had landed on Lesbos in a smugglers’ dinghy a day earlier and had spent a night hiding in the brush before being rounded up by masked men.

Sulekha Abdullahi, 40, and her six children were crammed in the van, too.

So were Mahdi, 25, and Miliyen, 33, who said they had also arrived on Lesbos by dinghy and sought cover in the brush. They were captured after a short pursuit, and Miliyen’s ankles still bore deep scratches when we interviewed him days later.

They agreed to share their stories but asked to be identified only by their first names, fearful of retribution.

A few minutes after the group was escorted out of the van, everyone was taken out on the Aegean waters in the speedboat. From a distance it looked like a tourist leisure ride. It was anything but.



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