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Migrants At Sea Say Greek Government Turns Them Away; Quarantine Warehousing In Venezuela; Djokovic Back In Action, Back On Form. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired September 17, 2020 - 02:00   ET



JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. I'm John Vause. Thank you for being with us.

Greek officials have denied accusations the coast guard is pushing migrants back into Turkish waters and leaving them adrift.

But some rescued migrants tell CNN that's precisely what's happening. They say Greek authorities threatened them with violence as well.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh has accompanied the Turkish Coast Guard on a rescue mission. She joins us now live from Istanbul.

It's interesting. They deny these accusations but it was what, two weeks ago when the shipping minster in Greece which is responsible for the Coast Guard boasted about stopping 10,000 migrants from reaching Greece via the sea.

Didn't say how they did it but doesn't take a lot to work it out.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they say, John, they're doing this according to international laws and rules and that they're protecting their borders.

And I have to tell you for years we have been hearing from migrants and refugees who have tried to get to Europe through Greece, they come back with horrific accounts of what they've been through.

They describe intimidation, humiliation, these aggressive and violent pushback incidents. And Greece has throughout denied that this is happening.

But, John, what's been going on this year, it's really disturbing. We have been hearing ourselves many more of these reports. They're more frequent.

And also the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, have sounded the alarms over this last month. Saying that they have been receiving a lot of these reports that they describe as credible reports, frequent and consistent.

And that they're saying they're hearing more of these pushback incidents at sea. And at the same time, they're seeing a significant drop in the number of arrivals in Greece.

They say about 5,000 refugees and migrants made it to Greece since March. And that is a serious drop compared to previous years.

And throughout all of this, Greece is denying that this is happening.

The Turkish Coast Guard gave CNN rare access to a patrol in the northern Aegean into one of their search and rescue missions. So we can see for ourselves firsthand what has been unfolding at sea.


This is the new pattern. The Greek Coast Guard vessel right on the edge of Turkish waters.

The crew's telling us that they have just gotten information about a possible pushback incident. Migrants and refugees possibly on a life raft.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Through translator): The Greek ship is moving towards its own waters. It's now fleeing towards Lesbos.


KARADSHEH: The Turks mobilize for a seat rescue, with the added risk of COVID-19.

Now, it's a race against time. These waters have already claimed too many lives.

They spot the motorless life raft drifting.


(Sound of Siren)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Through translator): Take the rope, take the rope. Grab the rope and don't let go.

KARADSHEH: One by one, they emerge. Eleven in total. Barely able to stand. Cold, wet, and exhausted. They huddle together at the back of the boat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:. She says you really don't want to know what they have done to us.

KARADSHEH: Still in shock, they recount how they made it to the Greek island of Lesbos two days earlier. But they were caught by Greek authorities, they say their belongings and money taken.


FATIMAH DHAIWI, MIGRANT PUSHBACK VICTIM (Through Translator): He grabbed me from my neck and started hitting me. They put a knife to my husband's stomach, and they held a gun to my

son's head.

KARADSHEH: They were forced on a boat and abandoned at sea.

Fatima says her family fled a hopeless Lebanon. They've tried the sea crossing five times in the past six months. This was the first time they had reached Greek soil.

Human rights advocates and the United Nations Refugee Agency have documented many similar accounts since March.

Watchdog groups accusing Greece of violating human rights obligations by expelling asylum seekers, at times leaving them adrift at sea for hours.

According to the Turkish Coast Guard, there have been close to 200 pushback incidents in 2020. They say they rescued nearly 6,500 men, women and children.

Ayat [ph] who's from Somalia says that they were treated like animals.

Everyone we've spoken to here says that they don't want to try this trip again. They don't want to try and go through Greece because of what they went through.

They're really shocked that this is how Europe deals with human beings.


In response to CNN's reporting, the Greek government denies that they're pushing back migrants and refugees. They say authorities are guarding the borders according to the rules of international law.

They accuse Turkey of weaponizing the migrant issue at a time when immigration is at the heart of a political storm in the E.U.


SALEH DHAIWI, MIGRANT PUSHBACK VICTIM (Through Translator): I hear that Greece is part of the E.U. I wanted to get to the E.U. to Germany, to educate my children and live there. But if Greece represents the E.U., I don't want any of it.


KARADSHEH: Definitely, definitely, they say they will not be going back to Greece after what they've just gone through.

These forced expulsions and pushbacks seem to be morphing into the new norm. Not only putting the most vulnerable at risk in treacherous waters but also drowning out the values that Europe claims to stand for.

And you know, John, we've spoken to legal experts, international and European law experts. And what they say is that Europe, Greece, they're under no obligation to accept and host every single person who arrives at their shores, at their borders.

But what they are obligated to do under their own laws is to allow people to go through a process.

They say every human being has the right to seek international protection, to make a case for asylum. And thousands are not being allowed to do so. As you've seen there, John.

VAUSE: Yes. Jomana, thank you for that report. Jomana Karadsheh live in Istanbul.

Still to come. In Venezuela, the cure might just be worse than the disease. Mandatory hellish quarantine for those suspected of having COVID-19.

A CNN exclusive in a moment.


The official numbers show Venezuela reporting some of the lowest COVID-19 in Latin America. About 63,000 cases, just over 500 dead.

But doctors, nurses and humanitarian workers say it's unlikely that reflects reality because many cases go unreported.

Because, as some Venezuelans have told CNN, anyone suspected of catching the virus faces government mandated quarantine in warehouses described as hell holes.

CNN's Isa Soares has this exclusive report.


ISA SOARES, CNN SNR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In the once oil- rich city of Maracaibo in Venezuela, COVID-19 comes hand in hand with fear and repression.

This mother of three knows this all too well. So much so she's still shaken by her experience.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Captioned, Through Translator): I sometimes am sleeping at night and I wake up thinking I am in the motel.


SOARES: And like others in this story, she spoke to me on the condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.

She tells me she was quarantined against her will in this motel after she lost he father to suspected COVID-19 and a rapid antibody test came back inconclusive.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Captioned, Through Translator): I was immediately isolated. From that moment I heard nothing from my family.


SOARES: She says inside there was little food or water. And personal hygiene a luxury.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Captioned, Through Translator): They said they were going to give me personal hygiene supplies and they only gave them to me after 15 days.


SOARES: Away from family and unable to leave her room, she says she was held for 23 days despite never testing positive for the virus.

Doctors tell us this motel is one of many being used by the Venezuelan government to house suspected COVID patients. In a bid to keep them off Venezuela's crumbling hospitals where the situation is similarly desperate.

The main hospital here, one doctor tells me, has only nine ICU beds, six hours of available water a day, intermittent power and one X-ray machine that worked for months.

Details that even health care workers aren't comfortable sharing because of a climate of fear.

In this video from a hospital in Maracaibo shared on social media, patients protest at the shortage of medical staff.


GROUP OF PEOPLE: [Talking simultaneously]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Foreign Language, Captioned): There's no medication nor nurse.

SOARES: They plead for help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Foreign Language, Captioned): Please help us. Help us.

SOARES: Patients say this man was left dead. Abandoned in his bed for days.


To date Venezuela has reported some of the lowest COVID-19 cases in the region. But with testing limited to a small number of government controlled labs, patients may wait up to 70 days to learn their results.

Doctors and NGOs tell us many cases go unreported and some die without even knowing if they had COVID.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Foreign Language, Captioned): There's at least twice as many cases than what is reported as deceased in the official lists.


SOARES: Doctors have been calling for increased testing since the pandemic reached the country.

The Venezuelan Academy of Physical Mathematical & Natural Sciences is currently predicting a peak of up to 14,000 daily cases. An earlier report in May was met with a threat of physical violence by a government official on TV.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Foreign Language, Captioned): This is an invitation for the state security forces to visit these people.


SOARES: They're not just empty threats. Doctors on the ground tell me authorities here have arrested health care workers who speak out publicly.

They say it's the government's way of maintaining control over the political narrative.


Is there pressure also on doctors not to note down who has contracted COVID, and who has died from COVID? {Foreign language) is it that type of pressure?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Foreign Language, Captioned): Yes, exactly. There's that kind of pressure.


SOARES: So while doctors work under the government radar and patients stay away from the streets, embattled President Nicholas Maduro tightens his grip on power under the guise of COVID-19.


VAUSE: Thanks to Isa Soares for that report. We should note CNN repeatedly asked the Venezuelan government for comment. So far, no response. We're still waiting.

Quick program note before we go. 1:00 a.m. this Friday London time, 8:00 a.m. in Hong Kong. CNN's Anderson Cooper will moderate a live Town Hall with Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden. You'll see it only on CNN.

Thanks for your company. I'm John Vause. More CNN NEWSROOM at the top of the hour.

In the meantime, WORLDSPORT is up next.