On April 26, Dimitris Choulis, an immigration attorney based on the Greek island of Samos, opened the door to his office and found a family of four at the door. Aisha *, 31, and her three children, all from Palestine.
“She said ‘backtrack,'” Choulis said, “and I understood what had happened.” These were the only people left on the island from a group of asylum seekers who had arrived from Turkey a few days earlier.
The arrival and apparent rejection of the group had been reported by local media outlets, who said island residents had given some of the newcomers water and that authorities were now pressing for them to say the group “never existed.”
“It was a stressful and dangerous journey,” Aisha said. After reaching Samos, he hid in the mountains with his children. “We found out that the others had been captured and deported to Turkey, but I decided to stay on the island at any cost and even live off water for many days. I didn’t want to go back to Turkey. “
The family drank water from the streams and slept in the forest on a journey of more than 40 kilometers through Samos to the refugee camp in the main town of Vathy. “We were [suffering] Hunger, thirst and the terror of being caught, ”she said. When she arrived at Vathy’s camp, Aisha was told by other people who lived there to find “a lawyer named Choulis.”
Choulis said the evidence of a rejection is difficult to deny given that the family appears in photos published by the Norwegian NGO Aegean Boat Report, which documented the arrival of a group of 32 asylum seekers in Samos on April 21. “It’s natural proof of a setback,” Choulis said, “I don’t know why we need something else to prove it.”
Subsequently, the Turkish coast guard published photos of the rescue of 28 people from orange life rafts on the Turkish coast off Samos on April 22.
Aisha seems to be a rare example of someone escaping rejection. For more than a year, NGOs and human rights groups have been sounding the alarm about reports of illegal collective expulsions from the Greek islands. According to data from the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN)Greece has rejected some 6,230 asylum seekers from its shores since January 2020.
In May, the Council of Europe urged Greece to “end” the practice and called for “independent and effective investigations” into the reported incidents.
Aisha, who fled an abusive marriage in Palestine and later left Turkey fearing her husband would find her, says she wants a safe place. “We had been living a tragic situation in Palestine, and I went to Turkey and it was worse, and then I came to Greece and it was even worse. I hope to see [my children] in a place where they can play and educate themselves. “
The Greek coast guard said there was no record of an incident on April 21. “Every operation of the Hellenic Coast Guard (HCG) is carried out with full respect for international law and international conventions,” he said.
He added: “However, while exercising the sovereign rights of the country, HCG has often become the object of systematic and methodical targeting on social media, in some media, but also by some NGOs. The vast majority of these publications / information are based on unsubstantiated reports and unconfirmed or unreliable sources, which cannot be identified. “
The UN refugee agency told The Guardian there were signs of a setback. “On April 21, UNHCR received a message that a group, which included women and children, had arrived in Samos,” said UNHCR representative Mireille Girard. “We looked for information several times from the local and central authorities, but we did not receive confirmation of any arrival. Local residents reported on social media that newcomers had been seen in the wider Ormos Marathokampou area and that there was activity, and a ship in the area that subsequently left the port late at night.
“In the following days, UNHCR was informed that a family, supposedly the only one of the group that had arrived in Marathokampou, had remained on the island and was accompanied by a legal representative to the government facilities so that the new arrivals could be registered. . These elements are worrisome. They are indications of a rejection of the island of Samos on April 21 and must be formally investigated by the authorities. “
For now, Aisha and the children remain in the Samos refugee camp. You have just heard that your asylum application in Greece has been accepted.
* Names have been changed for privacy reasons.