Migrants claim rogue Greek coastguard are ROBBING them at gunpoint and puncturing their dinghies in the Mediterranean
Posted by clandestina on 9 September 2015
- EXCLUSIVE: Migrants claim rogue Greek coastguard are ROBBING them at gunpoint and puncturing their dinghies in the Mediterranean
- Migrants claim that they have have been robbed of their life possessions while on the perilous crossing to Greece by pirates
- They claim that the masked, armed men may be a rogue element of the Greek coastguard and claim their descriptions fit
- The UNHCR, Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children are told MailOnline they are looking into the claims
- Greek coastguard deny the claim, adding pirates are ‘posing as authorities’… but admitted last month that one was a government employee
By Hannah Roberts In Kos For Mailonline
Masked gunmen from the Greek coastguard’s special forces have turned pirate and are robbing refugees in boats in the middle of the Mediterranean, migrants and aid-workers claim.
Migrants have told MailOnline shocking stories of how ‘commandos’ wearing balaclavas and armed with guns have struck in dozens of attacks between Turkey and Greece during July and August.
In some instances, the pirates made off with tens of thousands of euros in cash that the migrants had taken with them to find a better life in Europe – as well as mobile phones.
Victims say the mysterious assailants, who are light-skinned and speak in English and Greek, beat them with sticks and cut off their clothing and underwear to find any hidden phones and money before stealing the boats’ motors.
They then allegedly slice a hole in the rubber boats abandoning them to their fate. At times, the migrants have even been forced into the water.
Migrants, who call the gunmen ‘commandos’ because of their masks, have told MailOnline they believe the attacks are racially motivated and have pointed the finger at a rogue extreme right wing element of the Greek coastguard.
It is a claim supported by some aid organisations.
A number of international NGOs including UN refugee agency UNHCR, Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders confirmed they have heard the reports and take them very seriously.
One Syrian refugee, Osama Haj Tihir, a construction worker from Damascus, told how he feared he would die when he was attacked three weeks ago.
He was on a boat carrying 40 Syrians which was drifting for over an hour after their motor failed.
‘Then suddenly we were attacked by were seven masked men all in black, on a big speed boat,’ he said. ‘They had guns and knives and they pushed us onto the floor of the boat on top of each other, shouting at us – I didn’t understand the language.
‘They took €850 that I had on me and about €35,000 from the whole boat. They put all the cash in one bag and all the mobile phones in another bag. They cut the boat with a knife and threw the motor in in sea. Then they threw us in the sea.
‘We were all wearing life jackets but we obviously believed we were all going to die. But a few minutes after the attack the Turkish coastguard came to the rescue.’
Mr Tihir, who was travelling with his teenage son Kamal, said the men closely resembled Greek coastguard special forces.
Shown pictures of the special forces he told MailOnline: ‘On Allah I am telling the truth. They have the same black uniform, the same gun and the same ship. They are the same.’
The ship came and left from the direction of Greece, he said.
Another Syrian refugee Rami Kourafa, a 24-year-old law graduate who had been working as a driving instructor in Syria, was travelling with his cousins when their boat was allegedly attacked on July 17 and robbed of $70,000 and all their mobile phones.
He claimed the commandos struck immediately after the boat, which was carrying 33 refugees, had encountered the Greek coastguard.
He said: ‘The coastguard were circling us and kept saying “Stop. Go back.” But we didn’t stop even though water was coming in the boat.’
‘The boss of the coastguard looked very angry and pointed towards another boat and then drove off. Then, just three minutes later the commandos came. It was like they told the commandos to come.’
The gunmen cut a hole in their dinghy and told them to get in their ship, he said. ‘Then they took us out to sea where we couldn’t see land any more. We started to complain and fight with them and they beat us with long sticks. Then they took our money and all our phones.
‘They made us take off our clothes and even cut our underwear so they could find everything,’ he claimed.
The refugees were then ordered back into their punctured boat and abandoned. They were only rescued three hours later because one person had a small phone hidden.
Mr Kourafa who is now living in a camp in Isenburg, Germany, claimed the regular Greek coastguard had the same uniform as the commandos he met.
Some of the attacks are not robberies, but ‘racially-motivated’ attacks, claim migrants.
Alleged victim Mohammed Mohammed, 35, who previously worked at a law firm in Damascus, claimed the attack in which he lost his life savings of €8,800 was a Neo-Nazi style attack on Islam.
During his crossing on July 30 between Ismir and Lesbos he was robbed by masked but light-skinned gang with blue eyes who spoke in English and Greek and whom he said wore the same uniform as Greek coastguard special forces, he said.
He said ‘They are racists for sure. Like Nazis. They don’t like Muslims. They said to us “You are killers, you are killers.” They didn’t like it when they came close and saw there were women in hijab, Turkish hijab not full Saudi hijab. They women were saying Ha Allah, Allah save us from this attack and that just made it worse of course.
‘They were very well-built and highly professional. They drove their speed boat as if it was a Masserati.’
The men beat them with long sticks and removed the motor with a long pole.
Then they were abandoned with no motor and a hole in the boat. They were sinking slowly when an hour later when they were saved by the Turkish coastguard.
‘I believe they mean to scare us, not to kill us, but they don’t really care if we live or die.’
The same night the commandos struck another boat carrying two families who had to be rescued by the Turks as well, he said.
Efi Latsoudi of the NGO “Village All Together”, based in Lesbos, said the attacks may be aimed at dissuading migrants from making the trip, tactics that have been common in Greece in the past.
Previously, Greek coastguard boats are known to have circled migrant craft and attempted to block their passage into Greek waters and convince them to return to Turkey.
Italian activist Nawal Soufi who has become known as the ‘angel of the refugees’ because she acts as the intermediary between migrant boats in distress and the coastguards, said she had heard numerous accounts of the attacks, which she said amount to ‘attempted murder’.
They told the refugees said ‘go back to your friend Turkey, we don’t want you’, she said.
She even claims there is a woman among the so-called ‘commandos’. She described one of the worst attacks on August 8 as ‘a night of hell’.
‘At 4am the commandos carried out an attempted murder of 47 people including women and mothers with babies, on their way from Turkey to Greece.’
They beat the migrants with tasers and truncheons injured ten people including a child, she claimed. They tried to sink the boat with water cannon and took the motor and petrol before forcing them into the water.
In another attack on 27 people three days earlier, refugees were able to take a photograph of a large military vessel after commandos stole up to $50,000 in cash before abandoning them in their sinking boat.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said it has heard many stories about violent attacks on refugees and migrants at sea, said spokeswoman Katerina Kitidi. ‘We take them very seriously’, she said.
Doctors without Borders (MSF) said its teams first heard such reports from migrants in July.
Humanitarian affairs officer Constance Theisen said MSF have heard similar accounts some of which included ‘signs pointing towards the Greek coastguard’.
‘We have heard enough stories for us to be concerned,’ she said.
Save the Children said it was aware of many reports of the commandos from refugees.
The Greek coastguard did not respond to requests for comment, but last month accused criminals of impersonating its personnel.
It said on August 1 that it had arrested three men on the island of Samos, some 100 kilometres north of Kos, suspected of robbing migrants on the journey from Turkey.
They were dressed like Greek coastguards and wore masks, the coastguard said. One was a government employee.
EU border agency Frontex said they had been made aware of and were looking into the reports. Spokesman Ewa Moncure said: ‘We have last week received reports of incident of robberies or piracy in the area around Lesbos. Our fundamental rights officer is looking into it asking questions and gathering information.’