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Politics

One Year After Refugee Deadly Boat Sinking, Greece Offers No Answers

Almost a year since a fishing boat packed with hundreds of refugees sank in international waters near Greece – which survivors blamed on a Greek Coast Guard vessel they said attached a towing rope – an investigation hasn’t revealed the causes.

The tragedy came after Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ New Democracy government was trying to keep out refugees and migrants and repeatedly denied reports from pushing them back, even from international media outlets.

In this case, the Coast Guard vessel had its cameras turned off, preventing a record of what happened when the boat somehow capsized and went under, taking hundreds of people, many of them women and children, to dark watery deaths.

In a review of what’s happened since, the Reuters news agency spoke to survivors, most taken to a mainland detention center to keep reporters away from them after the June 14 incident and the European Union complaining about obstruction.

https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/year-after-greece-migrant-boat-tragedy-answers-justice-still-out-reach-2024-06-06/

They included Egyptian electrician Mahmoud Shalabi, the only one from his hometown to make it, 16 of his friends not being found, and as he said their relatives keep calling him looking for news about why it happened. It’s not coming.

“No one is accepting that they might be dead,” said Shalabi in an interview in Athens, where the news agency said that the 23-year-old wass doing odd jobs while his asylum application is processed. “Families are being tortured every day, not knowing anything about their son or their brother or their father,” he said.

The catastrophe further put a spotlight on Greece when it was adding measures to keep out refugees and migrants, including extending a wall on the border with Turkey and adding patrols in the Aegean.

Unlike this incident – the boat was said headed not to Greece after leaving Libya – most refugees and migrants try to reach the country from Turkey, which is hold more than million people who fled their homelands and were using that country as a jumping off point to reach the EU, which has closed its borders to them.

Mitsotakis promised an investigation and answers at the same time the Coast Guard was defended but neither have come and the tragedy – as has a February 2023 train wreck that killed 57 – has largely faded from public attention and scrutiny.

LEAGUES, BODIES UNDER THE SEA

No one has been held accountable nor prosecuted nor named despite complaints from critics that the government is trying to keep what happened a secret to protect itself from any sense of responsibility.

Reuters said it talked to a dozen survivors, relatives and lawyers but that the Coast Guard won’t talk, nor Shipping Minister Christos Stylianides, a Cypriot moved to that position after being named Greece’s first Climate Change Minister.

He said he will leave it up to Greek courts, which can take a decade or longer to rule on cases, to decide what happened. “We have to be patient,” he told the news agency without indicating whether his office, responsible for shipping, is doing anything.

A group of Egyptians jailed nearly a year pending trial and blamed wrongly for the shipwreck – they said they were passengers, not human smugglers – were released from jail in May after a court said Greece didn’t have jurisdiction over the case.

The cause of the shipwreck is disputed. Survivors say the authorities caused the boat to capsize when they tried to tow it. Authorities say the boat refused assistance but that is clouded in dispute as well.

In a report a week after the incident, two experts – appointed by the Coast Guard, not independently – said refugees moving around made the ship tip over, without explaining why it hadn’t happened until then, absolving the agency.

Shalabi said he was asleep inside and awakened by screams as the boat began taking on water and that he swam to the surface which was crowded with floating corpses and chaos was reigning in the dark.

Up to 700 people were estimated to be on board. Some 104 survived and 82 corpses were recovered. The rest are missing. The search for survivors didn’t find any and the investigation has apparently stalled.

A Greek Naval court opened an investigation in 2023 but a year later it hasn’t moved past a preliminary stage, no explanation why, lawyers and government sources not named told Reuters about the status.

In November 2023, Greece’s Ombudsman Andreas Pottakis launched a probe after the Coast Guard twice rejected his calls for an investigation but his office’s work has also not made any reported progress.

Eleni Spathana, a lawyer representing dozens of survivors who sued Greek authorities and blamed the Coast Guard, said basic questions remain unanswered about “the criminal omissions and actions” of Greek authorities.

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