Tchinda said the longed-for destination of his risky Aegean crossing — the island of Kos — was already tantalizingly in view when Greek vessels halted the boat he was sailing in along with 30 other migrants.
“First a navy ship blocked our way, then it was joined by two smaller Zodiac-type boats,” the 39-year-old from Cameroon said.
“The coastguards were armed and shouted at us to go home,” he said in a series of telephone interviews conducted between July 1 and Thursday last week.
A cellphone video shared by the Cameroonian with Agence France-Presse shows a packed dinghy immobilized by a Greek coast guard patrol boat, with four crew members monitoring the migrants.
A second patrol boat and a third vessel can be seen in the distance.
“Stay down and stay calm, for your safety,” a Greek coastguard, in a mask and gloves, says, holding a long pole.
Next to him, a female coastguard fingers a machine gun.
Yet the migrants, mostly men wearing life jackets, are agitated.
“I am tired,” one man shouts back.
“Pushback,” another says.
Tchinda, who declined to give his last name, said he believed the guards “did not dare” to act violently toward the migrants because they saw them filming.
However, they made waves to push the dinghy back toward Turkish waters, he said.
“Luckily no one fell into the water, but it could have been very dangerous,” the Cameroonian added. The Turkish coast guard confirmed in a June 11 written statement that it had picked up a boat the previous day shortly before 1pm.
Details on the number of migrants on board, its location and the time chimed with those described by Tchinda.
The incident comes amid a series of reports by the media and non-governmental organizations in recent months on the forced return of migrants from Greek territory or in Greece’s waters to Turkey.
Amnesty International last month said that illegal pushbacks of refugees and migrants to Turkey had become Greece’s de facto border policy.
Athens has repeatedly denied the accusations.
Between January last year and March, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) documented about 300 reported incidents of illegal expulsions around the Aegean islands and Greece’s northeastern Evros land border with Turkey.
Several migrant support groups, including the Greek Helsinki Monitor, in May filed a complaint at the European Court of Justice against the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, also known as Frontex.
The case was based on testimony from Ange, a young woman from Burundi, who said she and a Congolese minor were assaulted, robbed and detained on their arrival on the Greek island of Lesbos, then abandoned on rafts without a motor, water or food.
On July 6, Ange managed to reach Greece again by disembarking on the island of Samos with about 20 other people, said Panayote Dimitras, her lawyer.
“Asylum seekers risk being returned to Turkey immediately after their arrest by the police, who hide them for a few hours and pretend that they were never on the island,” Dimitras said.
Greece has toughened its migration policy since conservative Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis came to power in 2019.
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