Aegean Pushback

S.A.A. v. Greece, European Court of Human Rights, Application No. 22146/21

In S.A.A. v. Greece, Legal Centre Lesvos’ legal team represents 11 Syrian nationals who were part of a group of nearly 200 people violently expelled from Greece to Turkey on 20 and 21 October 2020. The group left Turkey on board a fishing boat with the intention of seeking asylum in Italy. The fishing boat was taken into a strong storm on the way and fell into distress at sea while navigating at the latitude of the Greek island of Crete, prompting the group to call for rescue from the Greek authorities and the UNHCR. Under instruction of the Hellenic Coast Guard, their fishing boat entered Greek territorial waters where it was approached by several vessels of the Hellenic Coast Guard and stopped to wait for over 5 hours at sea with the promise of being rescued and assisted. 

As shown in a video footage taken on the fishing boat, far from being rescued or provided with food, water or safety equipment, the group was instead violently attacked, by surprise, at nightfall, by masked ‘Commandos’ who assaulted them and stole their belongings. The group was then forcibly divided and transferred to two different Hellenic Coast Guard vessels before being thrown the next day into several orange motorless life rafts and abandoned adrift near Turkish territorial waters.

Particularly striking in this case is the number of staff, vessels, equipment and coordination mobilised by the authorities during this incident, including at least 5 official vessels of the Hellenic Coast Guard, among which a Search and Rescue vessel, deployed near Crete to coordinate a long, violent and massive pushback in which approximately 200 people were expelled simultaneously over 200 km in the Mediterranean Sea back to Turkish territorial waters in two separate operations.

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Third Party Interventions before the European Court of Human Rights: