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‘We were left in the sea’: asylum seekers forced off Lesbos | Refugees

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“We were all forced on to the boat. If we looked up they shouted at us and hit us in the head. Then they stopped at a place in the sea where there were no other boats, they left us.”

Mustafa, his wife and two young children had only been on the Greek island of Lesbos a few hours when, they say, they were driven in a van to the coast, beaten by masked men and then taken out to sea on a raft and abandoned there.

Their story is one of many and lies at the heart of what rights groups, the UN and the EU are warning is a crisis for the right to asylum at Europe’s borders – with “pushbacks” so persistent and severe they are leading to a huge drop in arrivals across the sea into Greece.

The UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) recently warned that many EU borders – from Greece to the Balkans to France – are increasingly impossible to pass for vulnerable asylum-seeking families such as Mustafa’s. There was a 85% drop in arrivals by sea to Greece in 2020 compared with 2019 and Notis Mitarachi, the country’s migration minister, has repeatedly pointed to the reduction in “flows” of asylum seekers to the Aegean islands.

Mustafa’s own journey began in northern Afghanistan. The family travelled through Turkey and crossed on a small boat with 12 others. They had paid €1,200 (£1,030) each for the journey, selling almost all their possessions to fund it after a militant group had threatened Mustafa’s life.

After stumbling on to the beach, a local NGO, Aegean Boat Report, helped them find the camp where they hoped to claim asylum. Instead, they say when they got there, they were met by police.

Mustafa’s family in the container they were put in before being removed from Lesbos
Mustafa’s family in the container they were held in before being removed from Lesbos. Photograph: Courtesy of Aegean Boat Report

“There were two police officers and they said, ‘wait there whilst we call [someone] in a higher position’,” Mustafa said. Still wet from the sea, other asylum seekers in the camp gave them clothes and food.

When the police said the family and the other migrants who had arrived with them would be taken to get a Covid test, Mustafa became worried, he said. “I started to have a feeling of fear that maybe they are going to push us and send us back to Turkey.”

Instead of being taken for a test, the group were taken to a container. “The police then came and gave us directions to a container nearby. They then shouted at us to get in the container,” Mustafa recalled.

At the container, terrifyingly for the family, four masked men arrived and searched the group for phones and personal items while people faced the wall.

A child in the container the asylum seekers were held in on Lesbos
A child in the container the asylum seekers were held in on Lesbos. Photograph: Courtesy of Aegean Boat Report

“Four guys came, their whole face was covered. They woke us up and took all the phones from the rest of the group. They couldn’t find my phone because it was wrapped in a blanket under where my son was sleeping. They searched everywhere, even in the nappies of the children. It’s not nice for me to talk about,” Mustafa said.

At various points in the ordeal, he added, the children started crying. They were then forced to get into the back of a van. “There were no seats inside, it looked like a van for animals.”

After around an hour they stopped and the men forced them to board a small boat. Mustafa said he was afraid to board, but the men hit and kicked him until he did.

“I thought that these men were going to drown us,” he said. “Everyone was afraid and shouting that they didn’t want to get inside the boat. But they kicked me so that I got on.”

Messages sent to the Aegean Boat Report NGO including a video of the family in the container.
Messages sent to the Aegean Boat Report NGO including a video of the family in the container. Photograph: Courtesy of Aegean Boat Report

The group were then pushed into an orange life raft and “left in the sea, where the waters are Turkish”. They sent a video pleading for help to Aegean Boat Report at 1.30am, nearly six hours after they had first asked the group for help when they arrived on Lesbos.

They were eventually picked up by the Turkish coast guard and are now back in Turkey, staying at a friend’s flat. With all their money having been spent on the journey, they are nearly destitute.

“We tried to get to Europe for the future of our children,” Mustafa said, “because there is no war there.”

The Greek coast guard said it has no record of the incident Mustafa described. In a statement it said it acted according to Greece’s international obligations and all relevant international treaties and with respect for human rights. “The Hellenic coast guard takes all necessary measures to effectively monitor and protect both Greece’s and the EU’s sea borders,” it said.

“In our effort to protect our country’s rights as well as the lives of refugees which are put to danger, some media and NGOs target the Hellenic coast guard with publicity based on untrue, unverified claims.”

Mireille Girard, acting representative for the UNHCR in Greece, told the Guardian they were aware of the incident and had eyewitnesses who had seen the people arrive in the Megala Therma quarantine camp.

“We are following this case very closely,” she said. “We were alerted by local residents and the residents in the Megala Therma [camp]. There were 29 asylum seekers inside the facility that night so they saw the group arriving.”

Girard said asylum procedures should be followed. “Clearly there was a group that had landed inside Greece and, more than that, they had gone inside the facility of the government,” she said. “So it’s very important for the authorities to look into this and see what happened.”

Mustafa’s name has been changed to protect his identity.



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Maradona Jr pleads for DNA donors in search for Argentina’s stolen babies | Diego Maradona

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Diego Armando Maradona Jr, son of the late Argentine football legend, is urging Italians to submit DNA to help the Argentinian government trace hundreds of children who were stolen and their parents murdered by the military junta that controlled the country four decades ago.

Maradona Jr is doing radio interviews in Italy and using his 400,000-strong social media following to broaden the search, which has already seen DNA testing programmes rolled out in Madrid and Rome.

The Argentine government believes dozens of children of the desaparecidos, the estimated 30,000 people kidnapped and murdered by the army during the dictatorship of the late 1970s and early 1980s, could have been taken to Italy after the fall of the junta.

During the dictatorship, pregnant women being kept prisoner were kept alive until they gave birth and then murdered. At least 500 babies were taken from their parents and given to childless military couples to raise as their own.

In March, the Argentine authorities and the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo movement, which has been searching for the stolen children since 1977, launched an international right to identity campaign in order to find the missing identities of more than 350 children.

Maradona Jr poses by a poster for the right to identity campaign after he was granted Argentine nationality in March
Maradona Jr poses by a poster for the right to identity campaign. The poster reads: ‘help us find you. You may be one of the grandsons and granddaughters we are looking for.’ Photograph: Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty

“The children of those victims are now between 40 and 45 years old,” said Ana de la Paz Tito, Argentina’s consul general in Rome. “To date, 130 children have been found. But 350 people are still missing and they could be anywhere in the world.”

Maradona Jr said: “The tragedy of the desaparecidos is one of the darkest chapters in human history. I am very proud to be able to assist the Argentinian authorities and associations in this important initiative as a way to carry on my father’s battle alongside relatives of the victims.”

In 2010, the football star sent a letter to the Nobel prize committee, requesting that the peace prize be awarded to the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. In the letter, Maradona wrote that the Grandmothers leading the crusade to identify the children of desaparecidos deserved to be recognised for their “untiring, peaceful and courageous struggle to achieve the return of children who were kidnapped in the name of state terrorism”.

Maradona Jr was a result of the footballer’s extramarital affair with Neapolitan singer Cristiana Sinagra and still lives in Italy, although he obtained Argentinian citizenship last year.

For more than two decades Maradona refused to take a DNA test to establish whether Diego was his son, but he formally recognised him in 2016 and the two reconciled and were close in the footballer’s final years.



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MEPs join EU citizens on farm-animal cage ban

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The European Parliament has lent political weight to an EU citizens’ petition to end farming of caged animals and force-feeding of ducks and geese to make fois gras pâté, putting pressure on the European Commission to table legislation. Forced-feeding was “cruel and unnecessary” and cages so small animals cannot stand or turn around were of “grave concern” MEPs said Thursday. Over 90 percent of EU-farmed rabbits are kept in cages.

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Speculations Run Amok as Johnson Crashes ‘Awkward One-on-One’ Meeting Between Biden and Morrison

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The Australian prime minister held a meeting with the US president on the sidelines of the G7 summit in England, where the two agreed to work closely on “challenges” in the Indo-Pacific region, among other things.

Scott Morrison was hoping for a one-on-one meeting with US President Joe Biden at the G7 summit in the UK, however, event host, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson frustrated his plans by crashing their tête-à-tête.

The Australian prime minister was invited to this year’s G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall and was set to meet Biden in a bilateral setting.

When Morrison was asked why the supposed private meeting suddenly included a third party, the prime minister said “it was an opportunity that presented because we’re all here and so it was mutual”.

“We were particularly keen to have the discussion with both parties”, he added.

The incident has prompted great speculation as to why Morrison was unable to secure a bilateral meeting with the US president.

“This seemed to me like it was Boris Johnson stepping in what seemed like it might be a little awkward meeting, given Morrison’s full-on support for [former US President Donald] Trump”, Nikki Sava, a former adviser to ex-Australian Prime Minister John Howard, told ABC’s Insiders.

Many others ventured that Johnson’s decision to make the meeting trilateral was motivated by a willingness to make discussions about climate change productive.

Labour’s Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Penny Wong called the prime minister’s inability to secure a face-to-face meeting with Biden “disappointing”, and suggested Morrison’s “stubborn refusal” to commit to net zero emissions by 2050 was damaging the country’s reputation on the world stage.

“Mr Morrison’s stubborn refusal to sign up to net zero emissions has left him isolated and left Australia isolated”, she said on Sunday.

Ex-Liberal opposition leader John Hewson, in turn, alleged Biden might “not be prepared to extend Morrison the privilege [of a one-on-one] given his indefensible irresponsibility and stubbornness on climate”.

Greens leader Adam Bandt, for his part, thinks the only reason why Morrison was invited to the G7 summit is so the heads of states and governments can rebuke him over Australia’s perceived inaction on climate change.

“Climate is a critical issue at this G7. It is the only game in town. When they sit down to discuss climate, Scott Morrison will be sitting at the kids’ table and I think part of the reason he’s been invited to this summit is so the rest of the world can give Australia a dressing down on climate”, Bandt told ABC’s Insiders on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Morrison has since rejected those claims, arguing that climate change was not a point of discussion for the meeting and would instead be a topic of conversation at Monday’s G7 Plus sessions. 

Following the trilateral meeting, Biden, Morrison, and Johnson issued in a joint statement, revealing they had “discussed a number of issues of mutual concern, including the Indo-Pacific region”.

Morrison later downplayed any suggestion of a diplomatic snub, describing it as “a meeting of great friends and allies who share a view on the world”.

“Australia has no greater friends than the United States and the United Kingdom. It was a great opportunity for my first meeting with the president. I’ve known Boris for many years, and there was a very easy understanding amongst the three of us”.



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