Migrants, turned back by the Greek coast guard, waited several hours in the open sea for rescue workers to come and get them. Photo: DR
Migrants, turned back by the Greek coast guard, waited several hours in the open sea for rescue workers to come and get them. Photo: DR

Three months ago, 28-year-old Stephanie* flew from Kinshasa to Istanbul to join her husband. To reach Europe, the young woman took a boat from Turkey. She said that her boat was turned back by the Greek coast guard, and that she and the other migrants were threatened with guns. This is her story.

"I got married in 2019 in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. But, two months after our wedding, my husband had to leave the country. He flew to Istanbul, passed through Turkey, then through Greece and Germany to settle in France.

I missed him very much and I also had problems back home. So I wanted to join him, and to make the same journey as him. Three months ago, I took a plane from Kinshasa to Turkey. Then I wanted to travel to Greece by sea, but the crossing went very badly.

It was the beginning of June, I got on a boat at 9 a.m and we set sail. There were about thirty other people with me in the boat. There were men but also some women from Cameroon and Somalia with their children, and some Syrians.

About four hours after our departure, we arrived very close to the Greek island of Samos. But, before we could dock, a Greek ship approached us. I was very afraid. The Greek military ordered us to get into their boat. There, they threw all our belongings and our phones into the water. Some passengers still managed to keep theirs, but they forced me to throw everything I had.

Also read: Greece claims Turkey tried to push migrant boats into Europe

'They made big waves to frighten us'

We were then divided into two groups, of about 15 people. They pushed us into what they called "dinghies", small inflatable boats, without motors. Some people protested and said they would not get on. But then the Greeks threatened us with their guns. So we had no choice.

We boarded these little boats. But the military didn't leave right away. They circled around us, which made big waves to frighten us. I screamed because I was very afraid that our boat would tip over. It was moving a lot. Fortunately, no one fell into the water. After a long time, the Greek soldiers abandoned us there.

One of the passengers, who had managed to hide his phone, called someone from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but he could not get help. So he contacted the rescue services in Turkey. We waited for a long time, in the sun. We didn't know if they would come.

At 5 p.m, we saw a Turkish boat coming towards us. We climbed on board and it took us back to Bodrum. I was placed in a center there for a few days before being released.

This crossing traumatized me. Since then, I have been in hospital in Izmir, they give me medicine because I have a very bad stomach pain. And I am very anxious, I am still afraid."

The Greek coast guard is regularly accused of violent and illegal pushbacks for migrant boats into Turkish territorial waters. From January to March 2021, the NGO Mare Liberum recorded 55 cases of push-backs, involving 1,480 people.

*Her first name has been changed.