Fifty-three asylum seekers, comprising Kurds and Turks fleeing a crackdown on non-loyalist citizens in Turkey, were attacked and forcibly returned to Turkey by unidentified, knife-wielding men along the Greek border at Evros on Thursday, relatives of the victims told Bünyamin Tekin from Turkish Minute.
On Thursday videos emerged on Twitter showing men, women and children claiming to be assaulted by the masked individuals.
Prior to the release of the videos, asylum seekers had recorded pleas for shelter from the Greek government, saying they had fled political repression from the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Following a failed coup attempt in 2016, the Turkish government initiated a massive purge of state institutions, jailing tens of thousands under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. The government has faced criticism for using vague counterterrorism laws to imprison critics and opponents of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), particularly alleged affiliates of the faith-based Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, and Kurdish activists.
This has resulted in thousands of people fleeing Turkey due to a widespread witch-hunt against alleged members of the Gülen movement. As many had their passports revoked by the government, some have sought to leave the country illegally.
On Thursday disturbing videos of asylum seekers in distress prompted social media activists to rally support and call for intervention from Greek and EU authorities to prevent the asylum seekers from being forcibly returned to Turkey.
ASSEDEL (L’Association européenne pour la défense des droits et des libertés), a Strasbourg-based non-profit organization, applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for an interim measure concerning the asylum seekers. The Strasbourg court promptly decided on an interim measure, indicating to the Greek government that the group should not be removed from Greece and should be provided with the necessary care until further notice.
According to victims’ family members, there were originally 61 asylum seekers who had crossed the Evros River and were waiting on the Greek side as directed by smugglers. At around 2:00 p.m. local time, they were reportedly attacked by the masked men. Following the assault, their belongings were seized and they were forcibly transported back across the river to the Turkish side.
Eight of the initial group are still unaccounted for. Turkish authorities have reportedly detained the remaining 53 individuals. Among them, 37 fled prosecution due to alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement, while the rest were politically active Kurds. Meanwhile, claims on social media suggesting the group had been in Greek custody were later refuted by the victims.
The Bold Medya news website shared footage of three injured children from the group being transported to a Turkish hospital.