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‘It’s an atrocity against humankind’: Greek pushback blamed for double drowning | Migration and development

On 15 September 2021, Sidy Keita from Ivory Coast and Didier Martial Kouamou Nana from Cameroon, boarded a dinghy from Turkey to Greece. Despite making it to the Greek island of Samos, their bodies were found days later, washed ashore in Aydin province, on the Aegean coast.

Interviews with more than a dozen witnesses, analysis of classified documents, satellite imagery, social media accounts and online material, and discussions with officials in Turkey and Greece, have helped piece together what happened over five September days during which the two men died, likely victims of a pushback by the Greek authorities.

What happened to these men, who left their homes to escape political oppression and for a better life overseas, has been investigated by the Guardian, Lighthouse Reports, Mediapart and Der Spiegel.

The Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has frequently denied that pushbacks occur. But there is mounting evidence that would-be asylum seekers are being illegally removed from Greek territory before having the chance to lodge asylum applications.

Keita, 36, left Ivory Coast after taking part in protests against president Alassane Ouattara. He arrived in Turkey in March 2020. Kouamou, 33, a mechanic in Cameroon, landed in Turkey last year, hoping to join his brother who had been living in France since 2014.

Like many before them, both men went to the Basmane district of Izmir, a known spot for people who want to be smuggled into Europe. They were among 36 who then boarded a dinghy from near Kusadasi on the Turkish coast in the early hours of 15 September.

According to testimonies, the boat arrived at the north-eastern shore of Samos around 7am, just as the sun was rising. The area, Cape Prasso, is a peninsula with steep hillsides and perilous drops to the water.

Lawyers working for the Human Rights Legal Project (HRLP) on Samos, 10km from Cape Prasso, received a text from an unknown number informing them of the dinghy’s arrival, with photos taken from land of a Greek coastguard vessel spotted in the area. At 10.25am, the HRLP emailed local police, the UN refugee agency UNHCR, a member of the European Commission based on the island and the Reception and Identification service for asylum seekers on Samos, informing them of the arrival.

The HRLP email, seen by the Guardian, asks that the arrivals be provided with the necessary assistance to register as asylum seekers on the island as prescribed by law. There was no reply.

Shortly after the dinghy arrived, witnesses describe hearing what sounded like shots being fired. In a panic, the people on the dinghy split up, scrambling up the hilly terrain to hide where they could. Eight managed to escape into the countryside but the other 28, including a baby, young children and a pregnant woman, were apprehended by the authorities. That afternoon, it is claimed they were loaded on to a coastguard boat, driven out to sea and cast adrift on two life rafts, a well-documented form of pushback by Greek authorities.

Jean* and at least two others were allegedly strip-searched and beaten. Jean said at least one woman was subjected to an internal physical search by officers looking for money. “The police beat us with the greatest violence,” he said. “I was punched in the face and in the stomach. I was crying.” Pascaline* said she was robbed of her money and her baby was thrown into the life raft “as if you were throwing a garbage can”. “We have to denounce this because it’s inhuman. They hit people in front of us, they traumatised the children.”

The two rafts were picked up by the Turkish coastguard a few hours later. The pregnant woman had gone into labour on the raft and delivered her baby shortly after being rescued.

Of the eight people who initially escaped the authorities in Samos, four would make it to a refugee camp on the island, while the other four were picked up. One woman was apprehended outside a monastery, given a bottle of water and cast out to sea on her own. She was rescued by the Turkish coastguard on 17 September.

Timeline and map of the Samos pushback

After sleeping in the forest overnight, Keita, Kouamou and another man, Ibrahim*, were apprehended on 16 September.

Ibrahim, a former member of the Cameroonian navy, said they were stopped on a road by people identifying themselves as police officers. They were asked for ID and stripped of their phones and money before being put into a car and taken to a port. Ibrahim said they were then loaded on to a speedboat, which he identified as a Rafnar, a vessel used by the coastguard on Samos.

After half an hour, the boat stopped and Ibrahim says that, one by one, the men were pushed into the water. “I resisted,” he said. “They beat me properly before throwing me into the water.” He said he swam desperately, the waves helping push him towards the Turkish shore and on to the beach a few hours from Kusadasi. He said he cried out thanks to God before vomiting.

According to Ibrahim, Keita’s body washed up soon after. Friends said neither Keita nor Kouamou could swim. Ibrahim tried resuscitation but it was too late. Ibrahim planted a stick in the sand next to Keita’s body and started walking along the coast.

He was picked up by Turkish police on 18 September, and described to them the events which led to Keita’s death. “They pushed all of us into the sea,” he told the authorities. “They did not provide us with a raft or boat.” He said Kouamou had disappeared beneath the waves.

Later that day, Keita’s body was found by the Turkish coastguard. Two days later, they found Kouamou on the same beach. Ibrahim later identified both bodies in the morgue in Izmir. Medical documents state that Keita drowned and that Kouamou’s body had been found in the sea, close to shore.

While it is impossible to fully verify Ibrahim’s story, two Greek officials with direct knowledge of coastguard operations, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that what he described had happened before, usually to smaller groups of asylum seekers. The rationale is to avoid using life rafts, which are expensive; any public tender for their replacement might raise questions. Both officials said refugees are usually provided with lifejackets before being told to swim back to Turkey.

Since December, the Turkish coastguard have recorded 11 rescues of people in similar circumstances.

Over tea in Izmir in October, Ibrahim said he believed it was partly down to God that he survived. “The sea is my friend, I have no fear,” he said. He has since made it back to Greece, where he has registered as a minor. The Guardian cannot verify his age. Months later, he is still haunted by what happened. “I feel like I left a part of me in the water,” he said.

Dimitris Choulis, a HRLP lawyer, is filing a lawsuit pressing for criminal charges to be brought against those involved in the pushback on behalf of some of the 36 people who made that journey on 15 September. “What is very dangerous for our democracy is having police officers overstepping the law,” he said. “My hope is, as a Greek lawyer, to restore the rule of law in the island of Samos, because this is what seems to have been lost.”

Lorraine Leete, from the Legal Centre Lesbos, added: “Pushbacks constitute atrocities against the humankind for which Greece and the EU will have to respond sooner or later, given the hard and accumulated evidence of crimes committed at their borders.”

Kouamou’s body was returned to Cameroon, thanks to savings from his older brother, Séverin. He leaves behind a wife and two young children. “The news of his death broke us all,” said his aunt, Marinette. “His death left me traumatised to have lost such a good son.”

Keita’s family could not raise the money to bring him back to Ivory Coast, and he lies in an unmarked grave in Izmir, thousands of miles from home.

In a statement, the Greek police authorities said: “The Hellenic police authorities, following a strict disciplinary legal framework, investigate every piece of information which is communicated to them and concerns alleged incidents of ill treatment at the borders, including allegations for unprocessed returns (pushbacks), in order that the foreseen by law penalties are imposed and similar behaviours are avoided in the future. The allegations on the breach of the principle of non-refoulement do not meet reality and in fact undermine the work of the Hellenic police at the operational border areas.”

The Hellenic Coast Guard said in a statement: “The practices described and attributed to operational assets and personnel of the coastguard do not correspond with our operational processes in deterring non-authorised border crossings, or dealing with third country nationals during the surveillance of sea borders.”

*Names have been changed

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Bukele places personal secretary as interim president as he runs for reelection in El Salvador | International

President Nayib Bukele will focus in the coming months on a reelection campaign, despite the fact that a consecutive term is expressly prohibited by the Constitution of El Salvador. Last Thursday, El Salvador’s Congress granted the controversial and popular president leave for six months so that he could begin his race for the presidency. The request was approved by 67 of the 84 deputies in Congress.

Bukele’s reelection bid was given the green light in September 2021, when the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court elaborated an interpretation of the text that allows a sitting president to participate in the elections if he is on leave from office at least six months before the vote. Honduran leader Juan Orlando Hernández and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega used similar moves to remain in power. The Salvadoran Supreme Court — whose members were handpicked by Bukele — made the decision even though at least five articles of the country’s Constitution ban consecutive terms.

Bukele has ignored the calls to respect the Constitution and launched a reelection campaign amid soaring approval ratings. Under the president’s controversial state of exception, gang violence has fallen to widespread approval. This is despite the multiple reports of human rights violations in prisons, arbitrary detentions and short-term forced disappearances.

The six-month leave granted to Bukele was the last requirement the president needed in order to begin campaigning for the February 4 elections. The president has the justice system and the polls on his side, and is also facing an opposition that is weighed down by corruption cases and has little popular support. “The infamous event that took place yesterday [on Thursday, November 30] constitute a triple constitutional fraud. The perpetrators have simulated formal compliance with constitutional norms while violating others that prohibit re-election, leaving presidential office and those that regulate the appointment and function of presidential appointees,” said the Salvadoran civil movement SUMAR in a statement.

“There is no president in El Salvador”

Bukele will be joined on the campaign trail by his vice president Félix Ulloa, who is also seeking re-election. According to the Constitution, Bukele had to present a shortlist of candidates to replace him during his six-month leave, but he only proposed one person: Claudia Juana Rodríguez de Guevara, his private secretary who overseees his financial activities.

“She is not a politician, she is the custodian of the president’s businesses,” Ricardo Vaquerano, one of the most prominent investigative journalists in El Salvador, told EL PAÍS. “Claudia Juana worked first in the accounting area, and then in the financial area, of Obermet, the Bukele family’s advertising company. Once Nayib launched her political career, she was in charge of finances for the mayor’s office of Nuevo Cuscatlán, where Nayib was first mayor in 2015. She then assumed the mayor’s office of San Salvador, the capital, where she became treasurer… and when Nayib became president, she became the financial director of the presidency.”

Vaquerano points out that Rodríguez Guevara was finance secretary of Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas (New Ideas) party. “It is the president’s party and this is a party that has not been transparent about absolutely anything, despite the fact that the law mandates that the origin of financing be transparent,” the journalist added. The interim president of El Salvador holds multiple positions, including the presidency of the Board of Directors of the National Directorate of Municipal Works (DOM).

Félix Ulloa, vice president of El Salvador under Bukele, in July 2022
Félix Ulloa, vice president of El Salvador under Bukele, in July 2022Álvaro García

“The DOM is an institution that was created two years ago to direct to Rodríguez de Guevara all the money that was previously delivered to the municipalities from the general budget of the nation. This year, the DOM should have at least around $680 million to do its work, but it is also closed to public scrutiny,” said Vaquero, who argued that Bukele appointed Rodríguez de Guevara to that body as she is in charge of the president’s finances. The journalist points out that in 2020 the Attorney General’s Office received 12 reports from the Anti-Corruption Commission on the irregular use of more than $150 million of funds under the umbrella of the funds to address the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite the criticism, the deputies approved the interim term of Rodríguez de Guevara, who is the first woman to occupy the presidency of El Salvador. “Claudia Juana Rodríguez de Guevara is elected as designated by the President of the Republic, for the current presidential period, which ends on May 31, 2024,” stated the approved decree.

Vaquerano argues that the appointment of Bukele’s secretary does not comply with the Constitution. “Every person who is going to act as president must go through Congress, and this lady did not even run for Congress. So there is no president in El Salvador at this moment,” he said.

Bukele maintains presidential immunity

Vaquerano also argues that Bukele has an “unfair” advantage in the election, as he will retain presidential immunity during the six-month leave. The journalist explains that Bukele controls the justice system and the prosecutor’s office, so it is unlikely that he will be punished if he slanders other presidential hopefuls.

“The state media will reproduce everything he says during the campaign. This is also a huge advantage for Nayib,” added Vaquero. “Bukele made it clear on a national network about three days ago that, although it is true that he will leave the presidency, he will ‘be watching them.’ Bukele is not leaving, he is pretending to leave, but he will continue to maintain control and remain close with key officials.”

Vaquerano adds that the State Intelligence Agency and police intelligence warned that the Bukele government has used the Israeli software Pegasus to spy on opponents, its own deputies, academics and critical journalists in El Salvador. “He can find out what his opponents are up to, what they are doing, what the political parties that are going to compete in 2024 are planning,” said the journalist. “If we add to that the fact that he has iron control over the prosecutor’s office, police and judicial body, he has everything he needs to intimidate them.”

Bukele during the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, USA, in September 2023.
Bukele during the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, USA, in September 2023.JUSTIN LANE (EFE)

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Kyiv investigates allegations Russian forces shot surrendering Ukrainian soldiers | International

Ukrainian officials on Sunday launched an investigation into allegations that Russian forces killed surrendering Ukrainian soldiers — a war crime if confirmed — after grainy footage on social media appeared to show two uniformed men being shot at close range after emerging from a dugout.

The video shows the servicemen, one of them with his hands up, walking out at gunpoint and lying down on the ground before a group of Russian troops appears to open fire. It was not immediately possible to verify the video’s authenticity or the circumstances in which it was filmed, and it was unclear when the incident took place.

The Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s office on Sunday launched a criminal investigation, hours after the Ukrainian military’s press office said in an online statement that the footage is genuine.

“The video shows a group in Russian uniforms shooting, at point-blank range, two unarmed servicemen in the uniform of the Armed Forces of Ukraine who were surrendering,” the prosecutor’s office said in a Telegram update on Sunday.

The Russian defense ministry did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. As of Sunday evening, there were no public statements from the Russian government or military on the video.

Kyiv, its Western allies and international human rights organizations have repeatedly accused Moscow of breaching international humanitarian law since it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The Kremlin denies these allegations.

The video first appeared Saturday on DeepState, a popular Ukrainian Telegram channel covering the war. The post claimed the footage came from the front lines near Avdiivka, a Ukrainian holdout in the country’s part-occupied east, where there has been fierce fighting in recent weeks.

The General Prosecutor’s Office on Sunday said that the alleged killing took place in the Pokrovsk district, which includes Avdiivka and surrounding areas.

“It’s clear from the video that the Ukrainian servicemen are taking the necessary steps that show they are surrendering,” Ukraine’s human rights chief, Dmytro Lubinets, said hours after the footage emerged on Saturday.

In a statement posted to Telegram, Lubinets described the incident as “yet another glaring example of Russia’s violations of international humanitarian law.”

Oleksandr Shtupun, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military grouping that is fighting near Avdiivka, was cited by Ukrainian media as saying the video was “glaring confirmation” of Moscow’s disrespect for the laws of war.

In March, footage of a man exclaiming “Glory to Ukraine” before being gunned down in a wooded area sparked national outcry in Ukraine, as senior officials alleged that he was an unarmed prisoner of war killed by Russian soldiers.

Last summer, Kyiv and Moscow also traded blame for a shelling attack on a prison in occupied eastern Ukraine that killed dozens of Ukrainian POWs. Both sides claimed the assault on the facility in Olenivka was aimed at covering up atrocities, with Ukrainian officials charging captive soldiers had been tortured and executed there.

The U.N.’s human rights chief in July rejected Moscow’s claim that a rocket strike had caused the blast.

Also on Sunday, Ukraine’s energy ministry reported that close to 1,000 towns and villages suffered power outages that day, with hundreds of settlements in the west battered by wintry weather and others affected by ongoing fighting.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, late on Saturday assessed that military operations have slowed down all along the frontline in Ukraine due to poor weather, with mud bogging down tracked vehicles and making it hard for lighter equipment and infantry to advance.

Even so, Shtupun, of Ukraine’s Tavria military command that oversees the stretch of frontline near Avdiivka, said in a separate statement Sunday that Russian infantry attacks had intensified in the area over the past day. In a Telegram post, he insisted Ukrainian troops were “holding firm” in Avdiivka and another nearby town.

In the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, at least two people died and seven more were wounded after Russian forces on Sunday shelled a high-rise apartment block and other civilian buildings, the head of the city’s military administration said in a series of Telegram posts.

One of the updates by Roman Mrochko featured a blurred photo of what he said was the body of a deceased civilian, apparently lying on a dirt road or in a yard outside the high-rise. The photo’s authenticity could not be independently verified.

Regional Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin separately reported on Sunday that Russian shelling that day damaged two of Kherson’s hospitals. He did not immediately reference any casualties.

Earlier in the day, a 78-year-old civilian died in a village northeast of Kherson after Russian shells slammed into his garage, according to a Telegram update by the regional Ukrainian military administration.

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Open Source Software (OSS) Supply Chain, Security Risks And Countermeasures

OSS Security Risks And Countermeasures

The software development landscape increasingly hinges on open source components, significantly aiding continuous integration, DevOps practices, and daily updates. Last year, Synopsys discovered that 97% of codebases in 2022 incorporated open source, with specific sectors like computer hardware, cybersecurity, energy, and the Internet of Things (IoT) reaching 100% OSS integration.

While leveraging open source enhances efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and developer productivity, it inadvertently paves a path for threat actors seeking to exploit the software supply chain. Enterprises often lack visibility into their software contents due to complex involvement from multiple sources, raising concerns highlighted in VMware’s report last year. Issues include reliance on communities to patch vulnerabilities and associated security risks.

Raza Qadri, founder of Vibertron Technologies, emphasizes OSS’s pivotal role in critical infrastructure but underscores the shock experienced by developers and executives regarding their applications’ OSS contribution. Notably, Qadri cites that 95% of vulnerabilities surface in “transitive main dependencies,” indirectly added open source packages.

Qadri also acknowledges developers’ long-standing use of open source. However, recent years have witnessed heightened awareness, not just among developers but also among attackers. Malware attacks targeting the software supply chain have surged, as demonstrated in significant breaches like SolarWinds, Kaseya, and the Log4j exploit.

Log4j’s widespread use exemplifies the consolidation of risk linked to extensively employed components. This popular Java-based logging tool’s vulnerabilities showcase the systemic dependency on widely used software components, posing significant threats if exploited by attackers.

Moreover, injection of malware into repositories like GitHub, PyPI, and NPM has emerged as a growing threat. Cybercriminals generate malicious versions of popular code to deceive developers, exploiting vulnerabilities when components are downloaded, often without the developers’ knowledge.

Despite OSS’s security risks, its transparency and visibility compared to commercial software offer certain advantages. Qadri points out the swift response to Log4j vulnerabilities as an example, highlighting OSS’s collaborative nature.

Efforts to fortify software supply chain security are underway, buoyed by multi-vendor frameworks, vulnerability tracking tools, and cybersecurity products. However, additional steps, such as enforcing recalls for defective OSS components and implementing component-level firewalls akin to packet-level firewalls, are necessary to fortify defenses and mitigate malicious attacks.

Qadri underscores the need for a holistic approach involving software bills of materials (SBOMs) coupled with firewall-like capabilities to ensure a comprehensive understanding of software contents and preemptive measures against malicious threats.

As the software supply chain faces ongoing vulnerabilities and attacks, concerted efforts are imperative to bolster security measures, safeguard against threats, and fortify the foundational aspects of open source components.

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