Forty survivors of the deadly Pylos shipwreck filed a criminal complaint demanding an immediate investigation of the tragedy. The minister of shipping expressed “shock” and resigned after the incident of Blue Horizon, owned by the same company that detains and arrests migrants in “secret prisons” of private ships. One of the lawyers of the five Greek border police officers arrested over allegations of working with human smugglers said that pushback orders come from top officials. Authorities’ denounced over move to evacuate refugee camps to house flood victims. Rescue calls continue to be met with non-response by Hellenic coastguard.
Forty survivors of the deadly shipwreck in Pylos that left up to 750 people dead filed a criminal complaint on 13 September against all responsible parties before the Naval Court of Piraeus. The survivors allege that the Greek authorities not only refrained from taking the necessary rescue measures as soon as the vessel was sighted, but instead proceeded to tow the vessel which resulted in its capsizing and sinking. Therefore, they “demand an immediate, thorough and reliable investigation and the attribution of criminal responsibility for the acts and omissions of the Greek authorities”. Organisations supporting the survivors’ case said in a statement: “The deadliest shipwreck of the Mediterranean has sparked global interest, a declared commitment of the Greek authorities to conduct a thorough investigation, and the launch of a preliminary examination by the Naval Court of Piraeus. Nevertheless, three months after the tragic event, none of the survivors of the shipwreck, witnesses of the events of 13/14 June 2023, has – to our knowledge – been called to testify on the circumstances of the shipwreck under that investigation or to provide any evidence”.
The minister of shipping, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis resigned following his controversial statements on the incident in Piraeus where crew members of the blue Horizon, owned by Attica group notorious for locking up migrants in dire conditions below deck, pushed 36-year-old Antonis Karyotis, into the sea. “I think that today those who mourn the bereaved and there are also those who mourn for those who went to do their work, to bring back a salary, a daily wage and today are accused of murder”, the minister said. His statement sparked outrage among many citizens who pointed out that the minister cannot equate between a man who lost his life unjustly and those who will be brought to justice for their unlawful actions. One of the crew members said in an audio file the day of the incident: “I thought he was black, a Pakistani”. In the resignation statement, Varvitsiotis said: “The murder of Antonis Kargiotis by members of the Blue Horizon crew has shocked us all. No one can imagine that Greek sailors, violating the age-old rules for the protection of human life at sea, pushed and abandoned an unfortunate youth in the murky waters of the port of Piraeus”. The Blue Horizon is owned by the same company that detains and arrests migrants in “secret prisons” of private ships. “It’s unacceptable to see violence against migrants, or calls to violence, to become more and more normalized within the Greek society and to contribute to the ever-growing systematic racism within the country”, said Journalist Anna Pantelia.
Angelos Nestoridis, a lawyer who defends one of the five Greek border police officers arrested in May for allegedly working with migrant smugglers from Turkiye in return for payment told a radio station that the whole team had official orders to push back migrants. Nestoridis claimed that while these police officers work for a special border guard force whose main objective is to collect information and arrest traffickers, and operate across the country, they are given standing orders from the top to carry out pushbacks. The lawyer explained: “They arrest, for example, one smuggler with 50 migrants, record 5-10 for the case file + the other 40 are pushed back to Turkey.”, adding that “This is a common secret to all.” Nestoridis also said that the border guards use other migrants to send the new arrivals back to Turkiye. “They are paid by the Greek state to do this work”, he claims, confirming previous reports of the Greek authorities’ use of Middle Eastern or South Asian looking “proxies” to assault, rob, and strip Afghan asylum seekers and migrants before pushing them back to Turkiye. Meanwhile, the court approved the candidacy of a convicted and jailed member of the far-right and criminal Golden Dawn movement, Ilias Kasidiaris, to run in local elections for the municipality of Athens. Kasidiaris and a number of other Golden Dawn lawmakers were arrested on 28 September 2013 on charges of belonging to a criminal organisation notorious for its attacks against migrants and racialized communities. The charge against him included murder, extortion, and involvement in the disappearance of up to 100 migrants.
The Greek authorities evacuated the camp of Koutsochero where at least 900 refugees are being accommodated in order to house the food victims. The Anti-Racist Initiative of Larissa denounced the government’s move aiming to “transfer the anger and indignation from the guilty to the weak. A war between the poor would be a lifesaver now for power”. A member of the initiative said “They (authorities) blatantly and shamelessly “throw away” the 900 refugees who lived there and worked in the surrounding area. They are supposed to transfer them to other structures, but we know that they are overcrowded and in a poor condition”, adding that “the racist state doesn’t hesitate to throw people away like garbage, brazenly promoting the far-right cry “Greeks first”. Additionally, the government plans to re-open the camp structures in Volos and Thermopylae which were closed previously by authorities. Meanwhile, hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees have been sleeping outside the city hall of Rhodes due to the lack of reception facilities and understaffing in these services. Moreover, according to Movement United Against Racism and the Fascist Threat (KEERFA), there are at least eight missing migrants due to the floods, while 50-70 Pakistani and Indian workers are stranded without water, food and other items.
Meanwhile, dangerous crossings from Turkiye as well as violent pushbacks continue. On 9 September, hotline Alarm Phone reported about 17 people at risk off Farmakonisi while a vessel belonging to the Hellenic coastguard reportedly was on the scene. The Turkish coastguard later confirmed to the hotline their rescue and transfer to Didim in Turkiye. On 13 September, Alarm Phone reported about 18 people in distress off Lesvos who sent a photo of what appears to be the Hellenic coastguard being on the scene and another 2 people in distress off Evros who had no water or food left and asked for urgent medical assistance. On 14 September, journalist Meltem Oktay reported that Greek and Turkish coastguard opened a fire at asylum seekers attempting to cross the Evros river. On the same day, hotline reported about 40 people stranded on the island of Symi after their boat reportedly exploded.
For further information:
- ECRE, Greece: Company Accused of Locking Up Migrants Below Deck Implicated in Death of a Passenger, Non-assistance, Non-response, Delayed Assistance and Pushbacks Continue, Alliance with Italy to Strengthen Cooperation on Migration, EU Court’s Ruling on Frontex Raises Questions about Accountability as Greek Court Compensates a Refugee Over Unjust Detention, September 2023
- ECRE, Greece: Death at Sea and Death on Land as Politicians and Vigilantes Attack People on the Move over Forest Fires, September 2023