Greek Coast Guard Leaves Asylum Seekers at Sea


A video taken on April 11 depicts 12 asylum seekers, including children and an infant, being taken from the Greek island Lesbos and abandoned at sea. The footage was taken by Austrian politician Fayad Mulla, who has been documenting human rights violations of asylum seekers on the island for two and a half years. On May 19, the New York Times published the results of its investigation of the video, corroborating its legitimacy. 

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A map illustrating the route that the Greek Coast Guard took the asylum seekers on, abandoning them at sea. Diagram by the New York Times.

The scene documented by Mulla shows 12 asylum seekers being locked in a van, transferred onto a speedboat of the Greek Coast Guard and left on a raft in the Aegean Sea. The 12 people were found around an hour later by the Turkish Coast Guard and brought to the Turkish port of Dikili. 

After tracking them down at the detention center in Izmir, the New York Times has identified and interviewed those 12 asylum seekers from Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia that were abandoned at sea. Each person’s story of fleeing their home country is a similar one of despair and hope to find safety. The group, like so many others, was confronted with an experience that one would wish upon nobody. 

Naima Hassan Aden, a 27-year-old Somalian woman, and her six-month-old baby were two of the people that were abandoned at sea by the Greek Coast Guard. She explained, “We didn’t expect to survive on that day. When they were putting us on the inflatable raft, they did so without any mercy.” 

Abandoning asylum seekers at sea – one example of many human rights violations

With the refugee crisis of 2015, the European Union saw a substantial increase in refugees reaching Europe. It is estimated that Greece today hosts around 500,000 refugees. Between the period of 2014 to 2020, Greece received three separate funds from the EU to finance its refugee programs, consisting of installments of €2.44 billion, €450 million, and €643.6 million

This instance is not the first time that Greece has been criticized for deporting thousands of refugees to Turkey. Throughout the years, Greece has faced heavy accusations in regard to its human rights abuses and violations of international and EU law. In January 2021, the European Committee of Social Rights found that Greece violated the European Social Charter, the EU treaty for the protection of social and economic rights. The Committee found that due to Greece’s failure to provide appropriate shelter, health care, and education to asylum-seeking children, a minimum required standard of living and safety could not be ensured. The Greek government has continuously denied any such allegations.

What are the EU-wide repercussions?

The New York Times has presented the video to the European Commission. Anitta Hipper, the spokesperson for migration of the Commission voiced her concerns, stating that Greece “must fully respect obligations under the EU asylum rules and international law, including ensuring access to the asylum procedure.” 

So far, the Greek government has not made any comments in response to the video. Hipper has now asked Greece to investigate this video. If the EU Commission begins an infringement procedure against Greece for the violation of EU law, the funds flowing to Greece may be frozen.

Cover image by: The New York Times

Marie-Therese Burkard
Marie-Therese Burkard
I am a German/Austrian student of the dual Bachelor's degree of Politics, Law and Economics and Laws at IE University in Madrid. Apart from my interest in journalism, politics and law, I love theatre, film and the arts. I also really love reading. I guess exactly that little bit of interest everywhere is what draws me so much to journalism!

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