Greek authorities on Sunday forcibly pushed back five Turks — a mother and her two children, another woman and a man — after they fled across the border seeking asylum in Greece to escape a crackdown launched by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the aftermath of a coup attempt in 2016, one of the victims told Turkish Minute on Friday.
Turkish soldiers immediately apprehended the asylum seekers.
Nevcihan Karaatlı (45) told Turkish Minute that she and the woman who fled with her along with her 16-year-old and 14-year-old daughters were teachers dismissed from their jobs by emergency decrees after the failed coup, while the man was a former sergeant expelled from the army as part of Erdoğan’s post-coup crackdown.
They crossed the Evros River, the land border between Turkey and Greece, at about 4 a.m. local time. After an arduous journey, during which Karaatlı got stuck in a swamp, they reached Greece near the town of Feres. They were on foot for four hours, hoping to reach a safe place to seek asylum.
A local called the police when he saw them, and a police vehicle arrived. A Greek officer frisked them and took off their shoelaces as if taking them into custody, took their cell phones and photographed their IDs. He then summoned another officer, who arrived masked in a van and took the group to a black site where they took more asylum seekers into custody.
“We waited there for hours in the sun. Our pleas for water were ignored. When we begged them and said we were going to die, they told us, ‘Then die’,” Karaatlı said.
After hours of waiting, a group of masked men Karaatlı thought were Afghans arrived. They had an inflatable boat and paddles with them and took the group in another van to take them back to the river.
While sitting in the van one of the masked men leered at the 14-year-old girl, and when the former sergeant tried to shield the girl under his arm, the masked man hit him, Karaatlı said, adding that a Greek officer also hit the former soldier.
“The masked men pushed us back to Turkey, where Turkish soldiers detained us,” Karaatlı said.
The episode is the latest of many pushback incidents that have taken place at the border between Greece and Turkey, where Turks who are fleeing persecution try to reach safety and are met by armed, masked men who seize their belongings and force them back to Turkey, where authorities imprison them on bogus terrorism charges.
For years Greece has been accused of illegally pushing asylum seekers back to Turkey, which it strongly denies.
But according to witness testimony and rights groups, summary deportations are taking place, and they are also hitting vulnerable victims of President Erdoğan’s crackdown on political dissent, which he launched using a failed 2016 coup as a pretext.
Thousands of post-coup crackdown victims had to leave the country illegally because the government had revoked their passports.
The people who wanted to flee the country to avoid the crackdown took dangerous journeys across the Evros River or the Aegean Sea. Some were arrested by Turkish security forces; some were pushed back to Turkey by Greek security; and others perished on their way to Greece.
Crackdown victims fleeing Turkey comprise people accused of membership in the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, and Kurds who actively participate in the Kurdish struggle for recognition. They are branded as terrorists, a label frequently used by Turkish authorities to legitimize its targeting of critics, legal experts say.
According to a December 2021 report by Open Democracy, the number of Turkish asylum-seekers illegally sent back home by Greek border officials rose dramatically amid a surge in migration fueled by Erdoğan’s crackdown.