The New York Times headline stopped me in my tracks. “Greece says it doesn’t ditch migrants at sea. It was caught in the act.” I immediately watched the video clips and read the article about asylum-seekers from Africa being rounded up, having all their worldly goods stolen from them and then left adrift in a rubber boat in the middle of the Aegean Sea.

The New York Times was able to verify the authenticity of the video, and track down the immigrants to get their stories. The nightmare began April 10 when masked men rounded up 12 people who had just arrived on Lesbos trying to get to a better life. The masked men told the immigrants that they were from M.S.F (Doctors Without Borders) — and then they tore off the women’s hijabs and searched them for anything valuable. They took everything they found.

The 12 immigrants were then put on a speedboat and taken to a Greek Coast Guard vessel, where they were then taken to the edge of Greece’s territorial waters. Then, the immigrants were transferred to a black rubber boat and abandoned. They were picked up by the Turkish Coast Guard and are now being detained in Turkey. They were the lucky ones — no one died.

Death toll increases to 62 from shipwreck off coast of Italy
First came the bombs, then a shoeless escape by sea in a crammed rubber boat

I know what that crossing looks like. I went to Lesbos in 2017 as part of a humanitarian aid trip. While there, I had lunch at a small café by the castle of Mithymna. This castle, so the story goes, contains stones of the ancient castle besieged by Achilles during the Trojan War. This “new” castle dates to the mid-1300s and is a formidable structure. The most sobering part, though, was the café owner who talked to us while we ate. We could see helicopters leaving the island and flying low over the water. We could see several larger ships in the water, heading to the same general area. We listened as he told us it was bad news, that helicopters only flew like that when there were bodies in the water. He told us “My eyes, they have seen too much.” He was right about the bodies.

Scouring the internet for news, I learned that the night before, a raft likely meant for no more than eight people was loaded with 25 people and sent on its way. Somewhere in that 4.1-mile stretch of water, it met with trouble. By dawn, five bodies had washed up on the beaches. By afternoon, the count had risen to 16, including all the children on board. There were only two known survivors. And just like that, the life and death decisions these refugees face to survive became very real.

I also found the story of one of the victims — a young man who was a violinist hoping to join a European orchestra. His family advised him to wait, but he was in a hurry and couldn’t stay in Turkey another day. He and his violin sank in the Aegean Sea.

According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugess, some 2,500 people have died crossing from Greece to Turkey from 2014 to 2022. According to Statista, more than 10 times that number have died trying to cross the Mediterranean and about 12,000 were presumed drowned but never found.

Warsan Shire, a British-Somali poet, penned these words in her 2009 poem “Home.”

“no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark…

no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land.”

While campaigning on Lesbos recently, conservative prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis bragged about a 90% decrease in “illegal migrants” thanks to his government’s “tough but fair” policies. When asked about the incident with the African refugees, the government did not initially respond. This time, though, there was video proof. After several days of silence, Mitsotakis went on CNN to say that abandoning refugees at sea is a “completely unacceptable practice.” He also added that Greece has a right to intercept people at sea and ask Turkey to come and pick them up.

The European Commission has formally asked Greece to begin an investigation and tweeted that the EU Commission stands ready “to take formal steps, as appropriate.”

Holly Richardson is the editor of Utah Policy.