Eyewitnesses accuse the Greek Coast Guard of drowning migrants off the coast of the island of Farmakonisi.
As UNHCR reports: “According to survivors’ testimonies, the Coast Guard boat towing their vessel was heading, at high speed, towards the Turkish coast, when the tragic incident happened amid rough seas. The same witnesses said people were screaming for help, since there was a large number of children on the boat”.
International organisations have condemned, several times, the refoulement policy against migrants entering Greece without papers.
UNHCR has requested explanations in the past from the Greek authorities about the mysterious “disappearance” of dozens of migrants by the Greek police, under circumstances that caused an international outcry against the Greek government.
In other cases, residents of peripheral islands have denounced that migrants surrendering to the port authorities, in order to be transferred to reception centres, never arrive there.
The full announcement of the UNHCR:
“UNHCR expresses its concern for the continued loss of human lives at sea, on the occasion of the incident in Farmakonisi.
A fishing boat with 28 people onboard (25 Afghans and 3 Syrians), including many women and children, was capsized and sank in the early hours of Monday, Jan. 21, 2014, in the sea area of Farmakonisi. 16 of those on board were collected by the Coast Guard. A woman and a 5 year old child were found dead near the Turkish coast, while 10 more people (2 women and 8 infants and young children) are missing.
A UNHCR team went on Tuesday, Jan. 22, to the island of Leros, where the survivors had been transferred by the Coast Guard, and talked with them as well as the Port Authority.
According to information from the Port Authority, the boat had been detected by the Coast Guard at midnight, Sunday, January 20, immobilised and without navigation lights and, taking into account the situation and the bad weather conditions, a salvage operation was launched to tow it towards Farmakonisi. During the operation, a large number of those on board were gathered on one side of the boat, which resulted in its capsize and sinking.
However, according to survivors’ testimonies, the Coast Guard boat towing their vessel was heading, at high speed, towards the Turkish coast, when the tragic incident happened amid rough seas. The same witnesses said people were screaming for help, since there was a large number of children on the boat.
“UNHCR urges the authorities to investigate the circumstances under which the incident occurred, and how lives were lost in a boat under towing”, Laurens Jolles, Regional Representative of the High Commissioner for Southern Europe, said.
The UN Organisation for Refugees has made an appeal to European and other countries’ governments to work together in order to reduce casualties, when dangerous passages in the Mediterranean and other key maritime borders are followed.
The Organisation notes the need for further strengthening of the rescue operations at sea, and the creation of channels for legal migration so that dangerous, irregular movements are avoided.”