February 20, 2016
In footage reportedly taken by the crew of a Turkish fishing boat and the Turkish Coast Guard on November 12, 2015, a member of the Greek Coast Guard is filmed attempting to sink an inflatable boat filled with 58 refugees trying to cross the Aegean into Europe. The drowning refugees, among them children, were rescued by members of Turkey’s Coast Guard and taken back to the Turkish port of Didim, where many migrants begin the treacherous journey from Turkey to the Greek islands. Commander Rear Admiral Hakan Ustem of the Turkish Coast Guard later issued an official complaint to his Greek counterpart, Vice Admiral Athanasios Athanasopoulous. In 2015 alone, an estimated 80,000 refugees were saved by the Turkish coast guard while trying to make their way to Greece.
Similar incidents took place in August and October of 2015, in which masked assailants, often armed, were seen deliberately disabling boats carrying migrants and asylum seekers by damaging or removing their engines or puncturing the hull of the boats. In some cases, witnesses said the boats were towed back into Turkish waters. In response to these reports, Eva Cossé, a specialist on Greece at Human Rights Watch said “disabling boats in the Aegean makes an already dangerous journey even more likely to result in death” and that “these criminal actions require an urgent response from the Greek authorities”. Human Rights Watch has also reported cases where Greek border guards sent refugees back to Turkey via the land border along the Evros River in northern Greece. To date, Turkey has registered over 2.5 million Syrian refugees, making it the largest host of refugees in the world.