Socialist Worker

Fury after footage shows attack on refugee dinghy by Greek coastguard

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2481

refugees wait on the Greek island of Lesvos

refugees wait on the Greek island of Lesvos (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Greek coastguards appeared to be deliberately trying to sink refugee boats in shock footage released by the Turkish government last week.

A man on the coastguard boat uses a long stick to jab at a dinghy loaded with around 60 refugees crossing the Aegean Sea to Greece.

With thousands of deaths so far this year, such attacks risk drowning yet more people on Europe’s doorstep.

Greek commander Athanasios Athanasopulos was reported to be “shocked”. Yet while horrific, such allegations don’t come out of the blue.

Reports of “armed masked men” turning boats back or trying to sink them have circulated for months.

And the police coastguards have form. In January 2014 a group of 11 Afghans and Syrians, eight of them children, died near the Greek island of Farmakonisi. Coastguards were dragging their boat at high speed towards Turkey.

Two months later Greek coastguards fired live rounds at a small boat with 16 Syrians on board trying to reach the Greek island of Oinouses. Three were injured.

At the other end of Greece, Macedonian authorities began clamping down on refugees trying to make their way deeper into Europe.

Earlier this year thousands of refugees stormed the border open, creating a migration route Europe’s rulers have struggled to regain control of.

But last week Macedonian police began a process of sealing the border again. They restricted access to those from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, as a prelude to even tighter closure.

Humanitarian news agency Irin spoke to some of the people left behind near the village of Idomeni. “We are people too. Why don’t they let us cross?” asked Vakasamin from Pakistan.


Yianni from Cameroon said, “I can’t go back to my country. We are also at war you know? We have Boko Haram. I need to continue with my studies and my life.”

Armed police threatened refugees who tried to find other routes. But they continued to organise and demand the border was reopened.

Iranian refugees lay on a railway line to protest.

Moroccan and Bangladeshi refugees held up homemade placards calling for “freedom”. Others went on hunger strike.

Overnight temperatures fell to six degrees below zero. Winter is taking a toll on refugees camped at Calais in northern France too.

The second major fire in ten days ravaged the “Jungle” shantytown last weekend, destroying around 50 tents and huts. Three people were hospitalised.

Fire is a constant risk for people forced to live in tents and use naked flames to keep warm.

A court ruling has ordered the authorities to provide access for emergency services, among other measures to improve the dire conditions. Instead of complying, they appealed the judgement.

Politicians have used revelations that some of the Paris attackers entered Europe as refugees to call for more border closures.

But the result will only be more people locked out in the cold in border camps from Idomeni to Calais—or dying at sea before they get that far.

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