Greece and EU have left over 27,000 people to die in Aegean Sea

Investigation finds a staggering number of cases in which the Greek Coast Guard and FRONTEX have ordered migrants to find their own way back to Turkey while stranded

Since March 2020, over 27,000 migrants travelling across the Aegean Sea to Greece from Turkey have faced ‘drift-backs’ – the practice of being abandoned at sea – an investigation by Forensic Architecture/Forensis has revealed.

The study has verified over 1,000 cases of drift-backs in which migrants have suffered inhumane treatment in their quest to reach European shores, with the Hellenic Coast Guard and FRONTEX playing a prominent part in these incidents.

Accounts describe how migrants and refugees are being intercepted in Greece’s territorial waters or arrested upon arrival in the country. Shockingly, 26 cases recorded indicate that the Greek Coast Guard threw people into the sea, two of whom were handcuffed. 

There are also accounts of asylum seekers being beaten, stripped of their possessions, and forcefully loaded onto life rafts with no engines, leaving them to find their own way back to the Turkish coast, which often results in injuries or death by drowning.

The investigation was carried out between March 2020 and March 2022, and found precisely 1,018 cases of drift-backs in the Aegean Sea, with 27,464 people being involved in the incidents.

The majority of the 1,018 incidents took place off the shores of Lesvos island (378). A significant number happened off Chios (136), Samos (194), Kos (122), Rhodes (92) while 79 took place in the rest of the Dodecanese.

European border and coast guard agency FRONTEX was found to have directly been involved in 122 of the drift-backs. It often coordinated with the Greek coast guard, where it would alert the national authorities of incoming vessels.

FRONTEX was also aware of a further 417 such incidents, with Forensic Architecture/Forensis having found the group to have noted them in their own archives as ‘preventions of entry’.

“Demonstrating the scale and cruelty of this enduring crime, our study erects a wall of evidence against the Greek government’s increasingly hollow denials,” Stefanos Levidis, a Forensic Architecture researcher, stated.

“It shows how the Greek Coast Guard cynically uses rescue equipment in reverse, to deny access to safety to thousands of asylum-seekers, leaving them adrift to the sea currents.

The Aegean Sea, a global symbol of hospitality and mobility, here shows its dark side. It has been sealed and turned into a weapon, a conveyor belt for people whose lives are measured differently at Europe’s edges.

As citizens of Greece and Europe, we demand that this cruel practice ends immediately. We have seen enough.”

Yanis Varoufakis believes this is a matter that should concern all Europeans.

“With every pushback of non-Europeans in the Mediterranean, Europe loses another fibre of its soul,” he said.

“As Europe’s soul is stripped away slowly, painfully, Europe is prepared for greater inhumanity toward its own citizens.

“No European should sleep easily while non-Europeans are pushed back into the menacing seas. Their nightmare today, tonight, will haunt our dreams forever.”

Drift-backs are an illegal practice that go against a number of international protocols including the inalienable rights to apply for asylum and to seek rescue at sea.

The platform is already supporting ongoing legal action, independent monitoring, reporting, and advocacy, as well as growing demands for accountability and international calls for defunding national border guards and FRONTEX. Explore the platform for yourself via this link.

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