Greece’s Inaction Under Scrutiny as Hope Fades for Missing Migrants in Tragic Boat Sinking

by Sophia Chen
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missing migrants

Subheading: Questions raised about Greece’s response to deadly migrant boat disaster as rescue efforts continue

In the aftermath of a tragic sinking incident involving a migrant boat, hope diminishes for the hundreds of missing passengers while Greece faces criticism for its actions leading up to the catastrophe.

The overcrowded trawler, potentially carrying up to 750 passengers, including women and children trapped in the hold, capsized and sank in the central Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday, potentially making it one of the deadliest incidents in the region.

Despite a large-scale search-and-rescue operation that initially recovered 78 bodies and rescued 104 survivors, consisting only of men and boys, no further survivors have been found.

Meanwhile, Greek authorities have come under fire for their failure to intervene and rescue the migrants. Although a coast guard vessel accompanied the trawler for hours, they helplessly witnessed its rapid sinking. Greek officials defended their inaction by claiming that the migrants repeatedly declined assistance and insisted on continuing their journey to Italy. However, legal experts assert that such justifications hold no weight.

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Late Thursday, the coast guard announced the arrest of nine survivors, suspected of being part of the smuggling network responsible for organizing the ill-fated voyage. State-run ERT TV reported that all the suspects were Egyptian, and the ship initially departed from an Egyptian port before picking up the migrants in Tobruk, eastern Libya.

In the southern port city of Kalamata, relatives of the migrants, who had paid significant sums for passage on the dilapidated vessel, gathered in hopes of finding their loved ones.

Kassem Abu Zeed, a 34-year-old Syrian refugee residing in Hamburg, flew to Greece upon discovering that his wife and brother-in-law were aboard the trawler. Abu Zeed revealed that the last contact he had with his wife was eight days prior when she informed him of their imminent departure after paying smugglers $5,000. The fate of Abu Zeed’s wife is uncertain, as none of the rescued individuals were women.

Now, Abu Zeed clings to hope that his 19-year-old brother-in-law, Abdullah, might be among the survivors from Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, and the Palestinian territories currently housed temporarily in a warehouse in Kalamata or recuperating in hospitals from hypothermia and exposure.

Retired Greek coast guard Adm. Nikos Spanos expressed minimal optimism regarding the chances of finding additional survivors, stating that they are slim.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated the number of passengers based on survivor interviews, confirming the presence of at least 40 children among them.

Erasmia Roumana, leading a delegation from the United Nations refugee agency, noted that many survivors remain concerned about their missing friends and relatives, desiring to communicate their safety and inquiring about the whereabouts of the missing individuals.

Mohamed Abdi Marwan, speaking from Kobani, a predominantly Kurdish town in Syria, revealed that five of his relatives, including a 14-year-old, were on the ill-fated boat. Marwan has received no information since the vessel sank. He believes his 29-year-old nephew, Ali Sheikhi, survived based on photos of the survivors, but this remains unconfirmed.

Marwan expressed outrage at the smugglers’ actions, claiming they were supposed to transport 500 individuals instead of the reported 750. He questioned the treatment of these vulnerable migrants, asking whether they were viewed as cattle rather than humans. Each of Marwan’s relatives paid $6,000 for the perilous journey.

Greek authorities stated that the trawler seemed to be sailing normally until shortly before its sinking and that they had made repeated rescue offers which were refused by the passengers. However, a network of activists reported receiving distress calls from the vessel during the same period.

According to the Greek coast guard, they were informed of the boat’s presence late Tuesday morning and confirmed its steady course through aerial observation at 6 p.m. Later, a satellite phone contact was established with someone on the boat, who requested food and water but expressed a desire to continue towards Italy.

Merchant ships provided supplies and monitored the vessel until early Wednesday morning when the satellite phone user reported an engine problem. Approximately 40 minutes later, as stated by the coast guard, the migrant boat began to rock violently and ultimately sank.

However, Alarm Phone, an activist network offering a hotline for distressed migrants, claimed that the boat’s troubles began much earlier in the day. They received calls for help shortly after 3 p.m., with migrants stating that they “cannot survive the night.”

At around 6:20 p.m., Alarm Phone reported that the vessel had ceased moving, and the captain had departed on a small boat. These conflicting accounts require further investigation.

Experts emphasize that maritime law mandates Greek authorities to initiate rescue procedures if the boat is deemed unsafe, irrespective of the passengers’ requests.

Adm. Vittorio Alessandro, a retired Italian coast guard official, stated that search and rescue operations do not require consent and are not subject to a two-way contract.

An aerial photograph released by Greek authorities before the sinking revealed the deck crowded with people, most of whom were not wearing life jackets.

Overcrowding, lack of life vests, or the absence of a captain should have prompted intervention, according to Alessandro.

Professor Erik Røsæg from the University of Oslo’s Institute of Private Law affirmed that Greek authorities had a clear obligation to initiate rescue procedures given the condition of the trawler. He further noted that a captain’s refusal of assistance can be overridden if deemed unreasonable, which appears to be the case in this tragedy.

Evangelos Tournas, Greece’s caretaker minister for civil protection, defended the coast guard’s actions, stating that they could not intervene with an uncooperative vessel in international waters. He also highlighted the potential danger of intervening and potentially capsizing an already overloaded vessel.

The sunken trawler lies in the deepest part of the Mediterranean, where depths of up to 17,000 feet (5,200 meters) may hinder any recovery efforts.

Human rights organizations assert that the European Union’s crackdown on smuggling has forced migrants to embark on longer and riskier routes to reach safety.

Eftychia Georgiadi, an official from the International Rescue Committee charity in Greece, criticized the EU for not providing more secure migration pathways, effectively closing the door on individuals seeking protection.

Paphitis reported from Athens, Greece. Big Big News writers Sarah El Deeb in Beirut, Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus, and Renata Brito in Barcelona, Spain, contributed to this report.

Follow AP’s coverage of global migration at https://bigbignews.net/migration.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about missing migrants

Q: What happened in the tragic migrant boat sinking off Greece?

A: A migrant boat carrying potentially up to 750 passengers, including women and children, sank in the central Mediterranean Sea. The overcrowded vessel capsized, resulting in numerous fatalities and missing individuals.

Q: What is the focus of scrutiny on Greece regarding the incident?

A: Greece is facing scrutiny for its failure to take action and rescue the migrants despite a coast guard vessel escorting the trawler for hours. The Greek officials’ claim that the migrants refused assistance and insisted on continuing to Italy has been met with criticism.

Q: How many survivors were found, and what about the missing passengers?

A: The initial search-and-rescue operation recovered 78 bodies and rescued 104 survivors, all of whom were men and boys. Unfortunately, no more survivors have been found, and hope is fading for the missing passengers, including women and children who may have been trapped in the sunken boat.

Q: What actions have Greek authorities taken after the incident?

A: Greek authorities have arrested nine survivors on suspicion of being part of the smuggling ring responsible for organizing the ill-fated voyage. The ship initially departed from an Egyptian port and picked up the migrants in Tobruk, eastern Libya.

Q: What is the overall impact of the incident and the EU’s crackdown on smuggling?

A: The tragedy highlights the risks and dangers migrants face when seeking refuge. Human rights groups argue that the European Union’s crackdown on smuggling has pushed migrants to take longer and riskier routes, putting their lives at greater peril. The incident raises concerns about the lack of safe pathways for migration and the need for international cooperation to address this humanitarian crisis.

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