Greece/Europe: ‘Somebody put a knife to the boat and it sank’

By Giorgos Kosmopoulos from Amnesty’s EU team

“Of course I remember you,” said Adam, when I visited him again on the Greek island of Lesvos. Coming here has become something of a habit lately: this is my third time on the island in just seven months. I’ve come to hear more stories from refugees and migrants who have made dangerous journeys to try and reach Europe.

“Adam” and “Lara” (not their real names) are both from Somalia and in their 20s. The last time I met Adam he was lying seriously injured in a hospital bed. The boat he was in had just sunk in the open sea. “Somebody put a knife to the boat and it sunk,’’ he told me.

“We were more than 40 people, including a pregnant woman, children and a disabled person on board, and we all fell in the water.” Lara couldn’t swim, and as he tried to save her life Adam’s leg was torn by the propeller of the coast guard’s boat.

Today, Lara greets me with a big smile in her colorful clothes. She is about to have dinner provided by local volunteers from the island. Local people also run the disused holiday camp she and Adam is staying in, along with other refugees and migrants.

Adam and Lara are among the lucky ones. The local authorities on Lesvos still seem unprepared for receiving the boats full of desperate people that keep coming from places like Syria and Afghanistan. Many, even children, are stuck for hours, even days, in the island’s main port, with little or no protection from the sun and the heat.

Detention, in often terrible conditions, is the standard fate for most of the migrants arriving in the island (read our feature in WIRE July/August to find out more).

And many don’t make it here at all. Our new report documents many allegations of the Greek authorities pushing desperate migrants and refugees back to Turkey. Some, like Adam and Lara’s fellow passenger, even slash their own boats in open sea, in the hope that this will force the coast guard to rescue them and take them to Greece.

Pressure from migration has been high in Greece, and the economic crisis makes it even harder for people here to cope. The fates of these migrants and refugees are not just Greece’s responsibility: the rest of Europe needs to play its part to find urgent solutions.

Meanwhile, Amnesty is asking Greece to stop putting lives at risk by ending the practice of push-backs. Now.

Find out moreSign our petition and read our new briefing at at

Get involvedAmnesty is organizing our second activists’ camp on refugees and migrants’ human rights in Lesvos from 13 to 20 July. Follow us on Twitter at @Dontexisteurope and get updates on our Facebook page.