It has only been a few years since the Greek Coast Guard was grateful for volunteers alerting them of refugee boats in distress. They responded to reports and followed legal procedure, whilst upholding moral responsibility - quite plainly, it’s job: responding to the distress calls and bringing people safely ashore.
Then came the first instances, around the beginning of 2017, where the Greek Coastguard no longer responded. Failure to provide assistance quickly became systematic. Reports of illegal pushbacks by refugee boats in the Aegean Sea increased.
In 2020, we have reached a point where the Greek Coast Guard is trying to prevent every single boat from reaching Greece. At least 8,500 people crossing the Aegean Sea were deprived of their right to asylum this year by the Greek Coastguard, not inclusive of the daily pushbacks on the Evros land border. The Greek government is proud to say that it has cut arrivals by 95% - while still denying pushbacks are occurring. However, investigations show that this practice is now systematic and even Frontex is involved.
This frightening development is not limited to just Greece. A wealth of evidence shows EU authorities are systematically breaking laws across the entire EU external border, now one of the deadliest borders in the world. Pushbacks, the illegal and deeply inhumane practice of rejections at the border, have become an integral part of European deterrence policy.
An equally important part of EU policy is preventing civil society from supporting people on the move. Laws, bureaucracy and justice are abused and manipulated, making it impossible for those who do not bow to the rampant inhumanity to continue doing their job.
Civil search and rescue ships are detained wherever possible or forbidden to land. The same is applicable to merchant ships. Crews are forced to choose between breaking international maritime law if they do not respond to emergency calls, or face the risk of journeys with rescued people on board for weeks or even months. Workers and volunteers from sea rescue organisations are arrested, charged and subjected to years of show trials.
And now us. We have never engaged in any sea rescue. We are not and never have been active in Greece. We only support refugees in Turkey. People on the move tell us about the human rights violations they have survived in Greece and Bulgaria. We collect the evidence and publish it in this database, in collaboration with Border Violence Monitoring Network as well as in international media.
It is clear that the Greek government wants to inhibit reporting on its human rights violations. This time, even the media has been manipulated to seek to discredit and defame us, along with the other three accused NGOs, before any charges were brought against us, diverting attention from reports of their own crimes.
On the advice of our legal representative, we will not comment on the specific allegations before the indictment.
However, we are not surprised. The last few years has shown that the EU does not see the observance of human rights as a priority, but rather the deterrence of people. People who flee from war-torn and poverty-stricken countries and want to realise their right to asylum in the EU are criminalised. Those who show solidarity with them are also criminalised, whether in Greece, Italy, France or Germany.
The phenomenon of governments trying to silence people who expose their own crimes is nothing new. People who work in the refugee sector have long come to understand that this is not only the case in dictatorial countries, but is also the norm inside the EU, an institution that supposedly provides democracy and freedom of movement. The extent to which we have progressed along this authoritarian path has been largely concealed from the general public.
Those who call for the selective application of human rights are thereby undermining their own rights. Human rights are indivisible. If they don't apply to everyone, then they don't apply to anyone.
Josoor will continue to work towards a world where human rights are applicable to every individual and solidarity transcends all borders.