Not less than 30 Cubans, hoping to say asylum in Europe, had been forcibly expelled from Greece to Turkey in direction of the tip of final 12 months, based on interviews carried out by Al Jazeera and rights organisations.
Al Jazeera spoke to 2 Cubans who additionally mentioned that, throughout their expulsion from Greece, law enforcement officials and border guards subjected these they had been expelling to violence.
Allegations made to Al Jazeera and rights organisations embrace accounts of compelled undressing, beatings, detention with out meals or water, confiscation of passports, cash and different private belongings, refusal to register asylum claims, and compelled water immersion previous to and throughout the expulsion course of.
Al Jazeera additionally seen images and testimonies of the asylum seekers taken by NGOs on the bottom to confirm these claims.
These expelled now say they’re left in limbo in Turkey with out identification or entry to authorized reparations, regardless of a few of them having reported the compelled expulsion to the Cuban consulate and Turkish authorities after their arrival.
‘Like a nightmare’
Joel (title modified to guard id), 38, a physician from Havana seeking to declare asylum in Spain, says he feared being killed throughout his expulsion from Greece.
In a video name with Al Jazeera from Istanbul, Joel recounted the two-day ordeal.
Within the early hours of October 29 final 12 months, Joel and two different Cubans crossed into Greece from North Macedonia on a 48-hour journey which had taken them from Havana to Moscow, then to Belgrade, then by bus and on foot throughout Serbia and North Macedonia.
Later that day, Joel says all three had been faraway from a bus travelling from Thessaloniki to Athens by Greek police.
He recalled being taken to a few completely different detention centres the place the trio, in addition to different Cubans, Syrians, Afghans and Pakistanis had their belongings taken, and had been compelled to undress, searched, crushed and detained with out meals or water.
“I informed the officers I used to be a physician from Cuba and was there to hunt political asylum. They only checked out me and laughed,” he mentioned.
After spending the night time in detention, the complete group was pushed to the forest close to the Turkish border.
Joel recounts they had been compelled to stroll in a line, led by gun-carrying officers sporting balaclavas.
“I assumed we had been being taken to be killed,” he mentioned, including that as they arrived on the Evros River – which marks the border between Greece and Turkey – an officer hit a younger man who was introduced there absolutely bare.
The officer then dragged the person to the river and pushed his head below water, pulling it out solely when referred to as out by different officers.
The group, eight folks at a time, was then loaded onto boats manned by plainclothes officers, taken midway throughout the river earlier than being made to swim the remainder of the best way into Turkey by the officers.
In a sworn statement given to Border Violence Monitoring Community (BVMN), Joel mentioned the officers within the boat mentioned “Once you get to the opposite facet [of the river] you’re free, and you may stroll in direction of the sunshine and discover the closest village.”
Caught in limbo
One other member of the group, Reniel, who most well-liked to offer solely his first title on account of fears for his household in Cuba, mentioned the expertise was “like a nightmare”.
The 25-year-old was working within the authorities tax division earlier than he left Cuba.
Like Joel, he was dwelling along with his household and mentioned it was “unimaginable” to reside an impartial life or to train political expression in Cuba.
“Now, I’m fearful about being unlawful in a rustic that I didn’t even select to go to,” Reniel informed Al Jazeera throughout a Skype interview.
“If I go away [Turkey], which is what they need me to do as a result of I’m not right here with [documentation], I may nonetheless be punished for it.”
Reniel mentioned he reported the expulsion to the Cuban consulate in Turkey however claims he was informed “the Greek authorities don’t deport any Cubans”, including that Greek officers confiscated his passport and didn’t return it.
In August 2021, Human Rights Watch reported that there was “mounting proof that the Greek authorities has in latest months secretly expelled hundreds of migrants attempting to succeed in its shores”.
HRW mentioned it “reviewed credible footage and interviewed victims and witnesses” describing scenes the place authorities compelled “folks onto small inflatable rescue rafts and sending them again to Turkish waters”.
Nonetheless, Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis denied the allegations, telling CNN in an interview: “It has not occurred. We’ve been the victims of a major misinformation marketing campaign.”
‘Absurd’ border practices
The Cubans’ allegations are amongst quite a few studies of a “violent marketing campaign” of pushbacks and expulsions of asylum seekers by Greece, throughout each its land and sea borders.
Natalie Gruber, spokesperson for Josoor, an organisation supporting survivors of pushbacks in Turkey, and BVMN member, mentioned these newest alleged expulsions show the “absurd” nature of present border practices.
“We will’t communicate of pushbacks any extra when a state systematically disappears folks into one other nation that they had by no means set foot in earlier than,” mentioned Gruber.
“This apply constitutes grave violations of quite a few legal guidelines, together with arbitrary detention, violations of the precept of non-refoulement violence amounting to torture … [and yet] has change into a pillar of the European border regime.”
Joel and Reniel know of “no less than 30″ Cubans in the same scenario in Turkey. Testimonies of seven Cubans taken by Josoor additionally revealed the same variety of Cubans in Turkey who say they had been expelled by Greece.
Corinne Linnecar, advocacy supervisor at Cellular Data Staff, a refugee help organisation in Greece, defined that these practices are exacerbated by challenges in accessing asylum in Greece.
“There’s presently no entry to asylum for almost all of individuals on mainland Greece, Crete and Rhodes,” mentioned Linnecar.
“This forces folks to stay undocumented and destitute and leaves them at elevated danger of being illegally and forcibly expelled to Turkey by the hands of Greek authorities.”
Linnecar added that whereas asylum seekers who didn’t arrive through the island hotspots may beforehand register themselves by way of a government-run Skype system, this was suspended in late November final 12 months with no clear data on a alternative system.
“The one Reception and Identification Centre presently on mainland Greece is a closed web site within the Evros area with a compulsory 25-day detention interval.”
A spokesperson for the Greek Migration Ministry informed Al Jazeera that “all folks arriving irregularly to Greece can apply for asylum”.
“Asylum seekers ought to report back to the present reception centres working at border factors to register on arrival to Greek territory, as required by regulation,” the spokesperson added.
The ministry mentioned a “small quantity” of Cubans have arrived in Greece in latest months however mentioned it “strongly denies any allegations that individuals coming into Greece have been expulse [sic] in any means”.
‘No freedom of expression’
Regardless of their scenario, Joel and Reniel mentioned they might not return to Cuba, pointing to the financial instability and the political setting as causes for leaving.
“It’s unimaginable to search out inexpensive lease to change into impartial,” mentioned Reniel. “There isn’t a freedom of expression … I couldn’t communicate out publicly … I felt like I couldn’t actually take it any extra.”
Joel mentioned he expects he could be punished if he had been to return to Cuba.
Cuba has reportedly been going through its worst financial disaster because the fall of the Soviet Union, with the pandemic and US sanctions intensifying challenges.
After the financial system shrank nearly 11 p.c in 2020, and imports of meals, medicines and shopper items slumped, public outcry spilled over into uncommon protests in July.
These had been met with a subsequent authorities crackdown, during which no less than one particular person was killed and greater than 1,150 arrested.
Charlie Martel, a visiting assistant professor on the College of Maryland Carey Faculty of Legislation, cited authorities “repression” and “friction” as causes behind Cubans searching for asylum in Europe and america.
Martel added that the Trump-era “Stay in Mexico” coverage, which US President Joe Biden was compelled to reinstate by a courtroom order, together with the results of a pandemic-related coverage often known as Title 42, has made entry to asylum within the US more and more harmful and exclusionary.
“Due to that, you’re seeing extra asylum seekers, who’ve sources, resort to going to completely different locations, or coming into the US in numerous methods,” he mentioned.
“These determined individuals are going to proceed to hunt refuge in any means that they’ll.”
For Reniel, he was simply on the lookout for “a greater life”.
“Once you attempt to do one thing like this, go away your nation and discover a higher life, generally you suppose they might catch us. However you by no means think about that one thing like this could occur.”