A Turkish coastguard crew has been caught on camera attacking a rubber boat with about 40 asylum seekers on board, including five women and 15 children.
The incident happened at about 8am off the Greek island of Agathonisi. A Turkish Coast Guard Cutter started chasing the dinghy, which at this point was moving fast out of Turkish waters. Eventually the coast guard deployed their own RHIB with three men on board.
It comes right as the EU is engaged in the final stages of negotiations with Turkey designed to stem the flow of asylum seekers by having them pushed back, in return for a resettlement programme, €6bn in financial aid and visa-free travel to the EU.
The raft started zigzagging to avoid being intercepted. At this point, the coast guard officials started hitting the migrant boat apparently aiming to disable the engine. First they started with a paddle that was not very effective before turning to a three-metre mooring rope hook.
They kept alternating between slamming the pole against the back end of the 8-metre dinghy and trying to stab the engine or dislodge the fuel line.
In the process, at least one of the migrants, Fatima, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who was sitting right next to the engine, was hit on the head.
While this was taking place, the larger coastguard vessel started making a circle around the migrants’ boat creating a dangerous wave that is intended to flood the engine but could have also capsized the vessel.
The chase, which lasted about 40 minutes, continued well into Greek waters with the Turkish coastguard pulling back when they were about half a nautical mile away from the shore of Agathonisi.
Still shaken, the migrants at this point were heading for a dangerous landing spot with jagged rocks around Agathonisi’s smaller sister island of Nera. Some fishermen and rescuers approached the vessel to convince the migrants to change course but at first they were suspicious only complying after prolonged communication.
Eventually, they were escorted to a fishing dock on Agathonisi, where most of the migrants fled as soon as they landed, still shaken by the experience.
Medics spotted blood in on the migrant dinghy and treated another woman who appeared sick.
The incident comes just days after footage surfaced of another Turkish crew adopting similar tactics with another migrant boat off the coastal town of Dikili, from where migrants normally leave for Lesbos.
The video is believed to have been filmed in Turkish waters. The migrants who filmed the incident accused the coast guard of attacking them, but in a statement Turkey rejected the claims, saying the coast guards were trying to stop the boat without harming the occupants.
Friday’s incident, however, has been witnessed by several independent observers, including a crew from Channel 4, which will be airing footage of the attack at 8pm GMT.