Balkans | Migrant disaster in Greece: ‘Instead of saving us, they sank the boat’

Home » Balkans | Migrant disaster in Greece: ‘Instead of saving us, they sank the boat’
Balkans |  Migrant disaster in Greece: ‘Instead of saving us, they sank the boat’

Four survivors of the migrant boat disaster off the coast of Greece say that the Greek Coast Guard caused the fishing boat to sink completely.

The United Nations says the boat that sank on June 14 was about 750 people, mostly Pakistanis, Syrians and Egyptians. It was one of the biggest humanitarian disasters in the Mediterranean in recent years. While 104 people survived, the bodies of 82 victims were found.

For their own safety, we have not disclosed the names of the four survivors, but we have verified their identities from multiple sources.

Some of those who spoke to the BBC are being held at the Malazaka refugee reception centre, 40km northeast of Athens. Others have left the facility.

The media is not allowed to enter the reception center, which is surrounded by barbed wire.

They pulled the boat over on its side.

An Egyptian eyewitness says: “We thought the Greek coast guard would rescue us, but instead they sank the boat.”

An eyewitness describes how the Greek coast guard towed the boat when it sank in one of the deepest places in the Mediterranean, 80 kilometers from the coast of Greece.

The Greek authorities earlier denied this accusation and claimed that when they wanted to board the boat and check the situation, a rope was tied, and the people on the boat denied this and said they wanted to go to Italy.

“They tied the boat to one side and moved quickly,” says one Syrian survivor.

This statement coincides with the statement of an Egyptian eyewitness, who said that they “pulled the boat by force and caused it to capsize.”

One of the survivors we spoke to stated that the Greek authorities asked them not to speak to the media about how the Greek Coast Guard tried to “rescue” the boat, and if they did, they should not blame the “Hellenic Coast Guard”. .

Another says that the Greek authorities pressured him to change his statement about what happened, and in return promised “financial assistance and expediting the application for asylum.”

risky maneuver

We asked the Greek authorities what the survivors had told us and demanded an answer. However, they said they could not comment because the information they formed constituted the official investigation into the boat sinking.

They also referred to their earlier statements that they had not run the fishing boat and that their offer of assistance had been rejected.

The German NGO Sea-Watch is a foundation that sends boats out to sea to rescue refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean. The organization said it did not have enough information to assess exactly what happened. However, Philip Hahn, director of operations for the organization, told us, “Towing an old boat carrying hundreds of people at sea is a step that will fail and turn into a disaster.”

“From what we can tell from the photos and testimonies, this is not a safe way to rescue the people on the boat.”

Noting that towing a boat is always a risky maneuver, Hahn states that this may be possible under certain circumstances.

Two of the survivors said that Greek authorities asked them, through interpreters and lawyers, to testify against nine Egyptians accused of human trafficking.

But the four said the nine Egyptians were passengers and had sat with them throughout the journey. They stated that the boat crew were masked and spent most of their time in the cabin.

One said, “As the coast guard approached, the crew jumped into the water and these nine Egyptians tried to float the boat. They didn’t seem to have anything to do with human traffickers,” he said.

Flotation devices are seen floating in the sea as part of a symbolic demonstration for refugee rights by Greek activists on June 20, 2023.

Relatives of the Egyptians, who were afraid of losing their relatives, told the BBC that they had paid $4,500 for the trip.

While the UNHCR welcomed the investigations, it lamented that “urgent and decisive action was taken to ensure that no more deaths occurred at sea”.

UNHCR figures show that 80,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean into EU countries so far this year. It is reported that about 1,200 people died or disappeared on these trips.


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