About 30 Cubans, hoping to seek refuge in Europe, were deported from Greece to Turkey late last year, according to talks with Al Jazeera and human rights groups.
Al Jazeera spoke to two Cubans who said that during their deportation to Greece, police and border guards had harassed the deportees.
Al Jazeera’s allegations by human rights organizations include cases of forced abduction, beatings, imprisonment without food or water, confiscation of passports, money and other personal belongings, refusal to register asylums, and immersion before and during deportation.
Al Jazeera also looked at photos and testimonials of asylum seekers taken by NGOs downstairs to confirm their claims.
The deportees are now said to have remained in limbo in Turkey without official identification or repatriation, though some of them also said they had been deported to the Cuban ambassador by Turkish officials upon arrival.
‘Like a nightmare’
Joel (name withheld for security reasons), 38, a doctor from Havana looking to apply for asylum in Spain, says he feared death when deported to Greece.
In a video sung by Al Jazeera of Istanbul, Joel described the difficulties of the two days.
Early on October 29 last year, Joel and two other Cubans crossed into Greece from Northern Macedonia on a 48-hour journey from Havana to Moscow, then to Belgrade, then by bus over Serbia and the North. Macedonia.
Later that day, Joel reports that all three were removed from the bus from Thessaloniki to Athens by Greek police.
He recalled being taken to three different prisons where the three, as well as other Cubans, Syrians, Afghan and Pakistanis, were forced to strip, search, beat and imprisoned without food or water.
“I told the police that I was a doctor from Cuba and I came to seek political protection. They just looked at me and laughed,” he said.
After spending a night in jail, the entire herd was deported to the jungle near the Turkish border.
Joel reports that he was forced to walk in a line, led by police armed with assault rifles.
“I thought we were being taken to death,” he said, adding that when he reached the Evros River – which represents the Greek-Turkish border – a police officer struck a young man who had been brought there naked.
The officer then dragged the man into the river and pushed his head under the water, releasing him only after being called by other police officers.
The group, eight people at a time, were loaded into barracks driven by plainclothes police, who crossed the river before washing the rest of the way to Turkey by police.
In a testimony he gave to the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN), Joel said officials on board said “When you get to the other side. [of the river] you are free, and you can walk straight to the light and find the nearest village.
Stick in the limbo
Another member of the group, Reniel, who used to give her first name out of fear of her family in Cuba, said the incident was “horrific”.
A 25-year-old boy had been working in the state tax department before leaving Cuba.
Like Joel, he lived with his family and said it was “impossible” to live an independent life or to show politics in Cuba.
“Now, I’m worried about breaking the law in a country I did not choose to go to,” Reniel told Al Jazeera during a Skype interview.
“When I leave [Turkey], that’s what he wants me to do because it doesn’t exist [documentation], I could still be punished for it. ”
Reniel said he also mentioned the expulsion of the Cuban ambassador to Turkey but said he had been told that “the Greek government does not deport the Cuban people”, adding that Greek officials confiscated his passport and did not return it.
In August 2021, Human Rights Watch reports that there was “overwhelming evidence that the Greek government in recent months has secretly deported thousands of migrants trying to reach its shores”.
HRW said it had “clarified the facts and questioned the victims of the atrocities” in describing the authorities’ insistence on “people to board small lifeboats and send them to Turkish waters”.
However, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis denied the allegations, telling CNN in an interview: “It did not happen. We have been harassed by the propaganda campaign.”
‘Nonsense’ on the border
The Cuban allegations are part of a series of reports of “violent campaigns” for the expulsion and deportation of asylum seekers by Greece, across its land and sea borders.
Natalie Gruber, a spokeswoman for Josoor, a Turkish survivor relief organization, and a member of BVMN, said the recent expulsion showed “nonsense” going on at the border.
“We can no longer talk about pushing back when the government will systematically deport people to a country that has never existed before,” Gruber said.
“This practice violates many laws, including unjust imprisonment, violation of the prohibition against violence which is tantamount to torture … [and yet] has become the cornerstone of European civilization. ”
Joel and Reniel know about “at least 30 Cubans” who are in a similar situation in Turkey. The testimony of the seven Cuban people captured by Josoor also showed the same number of Cubans in Turkey who were allegedly deported by Greece.
Corinne Linnecar, advocacy director for the Mobile Info Team, a Greek refugee organization, described the practice as a growing problem for security in Greece.
“At the moment there is no way to escape the masses of Greece, Crete and Rhodes,” Linnecar said.
“This forces the people to become undocumented and destitute and leaves them in danger of being deported to Turkey illegally and under duress by Greek authorities.”
Linnecar added that although the asylum seekers who did not reach the island could register themselves via state-run Skype, this was suspended at the end of November last year without any clear information about the transition process.
“The only receptionist and identification center here in Greece is the closure of the Evros district which is detained for 25 days.”
A spokesman for the Greek Ministry of Immigration told Al Jazeera that “all people who arrive in Greece uninvited can apply for asylum”.
“Asylum seekers should report to the border guard working in the border to register upon arrival in Greece, according to the law,” the spokesman added.
The ministry said that “a small number” of Cubans had arrived in Greece in recent months but strongly denied that those who had entered Greece had been deported. [sic] in any case ”.
‘There is no freedom of speech’
However, Joel and Reniel have said they will not return to Cuba, citing economic and political instability as reasons for leaving.
Reniel points out: “It is impossible to get cheap rent for a certain degree of independence. “There is no freedom of speech … I couldn’t speak in public … I feel like I can’t stand it anymore.”
Joel said he hopes to be punished if he returns to Cuba.
Cuba has been experiencing economic hardship since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the epidemic and US sanctions have intensified.
As the economy recovered by about 11 percent by 2020, and food, medicine and consumer goods declined, the outcry reached unprecedented protests in July.
This led to a series of government riots, in which one person was killed and more than 1,150 were arrested.
Charlie Martel, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, cited the “oppression” and “conflict” of the government as reasons why Cubans seek security in Europe and the United States.
Martel added that Trump’s term “Stay in Mexico”, which US President Joe Biden was forced to reconsider by a court order, as well as the effects of the plague’s 42-year-old epidemic, has led to security in the region. The US is increasingly dangerous and unpopular.
“As a result, you see asylum seekers, who have resources, go to different places, or come to the US in different ways,” he said.
“The victims will continue to flee in any way they can.”
For Reniel, she just wants a “good life”.
“If you want to do that, leave your country and live a good life, sometimes you think they can handle us. But you never think that such a thing could happen. ”