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VIDEO: Greek coastguard allegedly pierces dinghy packed with refugees

Greece faces calls for inquiry into footage appearing to show man aboard coastguard vessel using a boat hook to puncture inflatable craft
Refugees packed onto a rubber dinghy shout for help from a man alleged to be a member of the Greek coastguard (YouTube / MEE)

Footage has emerged appearing to show a man aboard a Greek coastguard vessel intentionally damaging a boat loaded with refugees in waters between Turkey and a Greek island.

A video obtained by Middle East Eye on Friday appears to show a man dressed in the uniform typically worn by Greek coastguards piercing a rubber dinghy with a boat hook as the people on board, who include young children, raise their hands and shout for help.

The boat he is standing on bears a registration number and logo matching that of Greek coastguard vessels.

In a section of the footage filmed using night-vision technology, air can clearly be seen exploding out of the dinghy - which is packed with around 30 people - after it is hit by the boat hook.

The boat can then be seen sinking in the water, with those on board later picked up by a Turkish coastguard vessel.

The footage was filmed last Thursday by the Turkish coastguard as it patrolled waters between the Turkish port of Didim and Leros, a Greek island that lies about 45 kilometres away across the Aegean Sea.

“The Turkish coastguard regularly films its rescue operations, and has previously shared footage with international media,” a government official told MEE on Friday.

“But this is shocking. We expect that this footage will be investigated - it’s difficult for us to understand why they would try to sink a refugee boat,” said the official, who requested anonymity as he was not authorised to discuss the issue with the media.

Though the peak summer season is over, thousands of people continue to arrive daily on the small Greek islands clustered close to the Turkish coast - most new arrivals hope to continue their journey northwards through Europe.

Authorities on the small islands have been struggling to cope in the midst of an economic crisis that pushed Greece to the brink of bankruptcy earlier this year.

'Profound concern'

Amnesty International, which viewed the footage on Friday, said it was "profoundly concerned" and urged Greek authorities to conduct a "prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the incident".

Amnesty's Greece researcher, Kondylia Gogou, told MEE she had been informed of four separate "push-backs" - where authorities illegally prevent people from seeking asylum - from Greece in 2015.

In one incident, asylum seekers interviewed by Amnesty International said their boat had been punctured and had its engine removed by men in black masks, meaning they could not be certain whether the push-back was enforced by civilians or by Greek officials.

The Greek coastguard has denied the most recent allegations, saying footage of the incident was "doctored".

“None of the thousands of refugees who have arrived in Greece [in recent days] have complained to the police about an incident like this,” a spokesperson said.

The footage emerged just days after the Turkish and Greek prime ministers met in Ankara, successfully agreeing to co-ordinate more closely on the refugee issue.

However, Greek premier Alexis Tsipras failed to persuade his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutolgu, to allow refugees to be relocated directly from camps in Turkey rather than Greece.

The proposal, which would allow refugees to avoid the risky journey across the choppy Aegean Sea, was rebuffed by Davutoglu, who instead stressed the need to put an end to the Syrian conflict.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet EU leaders next week to discuss the migration crisis, in talks that will likely include discussions of Turkey’s long hoped-for accession to the union and strategies for peace in Syria.

“For two and a half years we have called on the EU to tackle the root cause of the refugee crisis - the violence in Syria,” said the Turkish government official who spoke to MEE. “Now we expect the international community to step up."

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