Greek Coast Guard drowned refugees near Farmakonisi during push-back attempt

Source: Infowar English version source:
Translator: Eleni Nicolaou

Eyewitnesses accuse the Greek Coast Guard of drowning migrants off the coast of the island of Farmakonisi on January 20th, 2013. 9 children and 3 women died!

survivors arriving in piraeus on 23.1.14

survivors arriving in piraeus on 23.1.14

“I am shocked and distressed by the new tragedy which occurred near Farmakonisi in which a number of migrants, including possible asylum seekers, have drowned or have gone missing in what appears to be a case of a failed collective expulsion,” Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press.

“The Greek government has pledged last week to put an end to the illegal practice of collective expulsions and effectively investigate all such cases. I urge them to implement their promise.”

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.
Video showing how the survivors arrive on LEros with coast guard escort while being in a devastated state

video showing the arrival of the survivors in Piraeus / Athens 23.1.14 and their shocking witness accounts

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.

copyright dromografos

copyright dromografos

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 overturned 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 overturn 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.

press releases:
UNHCR Greece, 21st January 2013 (in greek)
respective press release by Pro Asyl (in german)
press release amnesty international
press release Greek Refugee Council (in greek)

media coverage:
four corpses found in turkey
bbc (in english)
enet (in greek)
tvxs (in greek)
euronews (in english)
todayszaman (in english)
video of the arrival of the survivors in Piraeus port / rednotebook 23.1.14 (in greek) (in greek)
kathimerini (in english)
enet (in english)
paralilografos (in greek)
i-efimerida (in greek)
kathimerini (in english)


UNHCR Press Release

UNHCR is dismayed to have learned of a boat cap-sizing off the coast of Greece in the early hours of this morning, which has left a woman and a child dead and 10 other people missing, among them infants and children.

According to accounts from some of the 16 survivors and Greek Coast Guard, the vessel was carrying 26 Afghans and two Syrians. It was intercepted in the southern Aegean Sea shortly after midnight following a mechanical breakdown and while apparently en route from Turkey to Greece. The boat, with all 28 passengers still aboard, was being towed by a Coast Guard vessel when it capsized. The survivors, now on the island of Leros, told UNHCR they were being towed in the direction of Turkey at the time of the accident.

“UNHCR is urging the authorities to investigate this incident and how lives were lost on a boat that was under tow,” said Laurens Jolles, UNHCR’s Southern Europe Regional Representative. “In addition survivors need to be quickly moved to the mainland so that their needs can be better looked after.”

Tuesday’s incident is the first of its kind in 2014, and the latest in a string of recent boat disasters in the Mediterranean involving people fleeing by sea towards Europe. More than 360 people died on October 3rd 2013 in a capsizing off of Italy’s Lampedusa. Several other deadly incidents were reported over the following weeks.

Irregular boat crossings of the Mediterranean typically involve a mix of migrants and asylum seekers but conflict in Syria and the Horn of Africa region is being reflected in recent higher numbers of deaths of people fleeing refugee-producing countries.
In 2013, some 40,000 people arrived by irregularly by boat in Italy, Malta, and Greece. This compares to more than 60,000 in 2011 during the Libya crisis. Irregular boat crossings of the Mediterranean typically occur between March and October during the Spring and summer months, however this year they have been continuing throughout the winter, despite the extreme weather conditions. So far in Italy alone, over 1,700 people have arrived by sea.

UNHCR has urged European and other governments to work together to reduce losses of life among people making dangerous sea journeys across the Mediterranean and the world’s other major sea frontiers, including by continuing to strengthen search and rescue operations, as well as the creation of legal migration alternatives to dangerous irregular movements.
UNHCR full statement in English

Press release by SYRIZA
translated by KT

The drowing of 12 refugees and migrants women and children in Farmakonisi Leros, highlights another tragic stalemate of the governmental policy that costs human lives. ACcording to testimonies of the survivors to a UNHCR delegation, the coastguard vessel that was towing their boat was directing on a high speed towards the turkish coasts, while in the middle of a storm the tragic incident occured. The same testimonies refer that the passengers were screaming for help, as on board there were many children. Their cries were not answered. What else is it, but a cynical crime?

Syriza considers that responsible for the tragedy in Farmakonisi are the illegal practices of preventing the entrance of refugees in the Greek territorial waters, for the application of which the same Prime Minister was bragging about some days before in the parliament. These practices have caused some days earlier the intervention of the european commissioner Nils Muznieks and have obligated the Prime Ministers Dendias and Varvitsiotis to accept at least the problem. Today this is not enough. What happened in Farmakonisi was not an isolated incident. In May 2013 again in Leros, Syrian families were wiped out and underage children were driven to death. According to numerous testimonies and reports by international organizations, relative incidents constitute a routine in Evros and only by pure luck other lives are not lost.

We demand from the Ministry of Shipping the immediate revocation of the orders of preventing and towing refugees boat to the Turkish coasts. The tragedy in Leros some months ago after the fatal shipwreck in Palairos (in western greece) it’s an occasion to repeat it: it’s absolutely urgent a radically different policy of refugees reception, before the waters of the Greek islands and Evros turn into a huge cemetery.

SYRIZA press release (in greek)

Answer of the hellenic coast guard to UNHCR press release:
translation KT

With regards to the articles in which the UNHCR announcement is reproduced, concerning the recent incident in the sea area of Farmakonisi, the Head of the Hellenic Coastguard clarifies the following:
1. In no case the coastguard vessel was not towing the boat towards the turkish coasts, on the contrary the boat carrying the foreigners was being towed to Farmakonisi. This can be proved in a clear way by the fact that the sinking point of the boat it’s western from where it was initially located, which is with its direction towards the greek region, more specifically the island of Farmakonisi.
1559367_696797803685554_1487457380_o2. The procedure of towing towards the closest greek shore, that is the island of Farmakonisi, was chosen as the most suitable way of transferring the foreign passengers, due to the fact that carrying them in the open sea on board of the coast guard vessel was dangerous for their security considering the bad weather conditions [south, southeast wind of 5 beaufort, quickly escalating into a 6 beaufort) with waves of 1,5-2mt height.
3. It is noted that the huge efforts made by the crew of the greek coast guard patrol vessel in order to rescue the lives of the foreign passengers, during the whole incident, resulted into a fire on the left main engine. Indipendently from this, the coastguard crew parallel to the recommendable actions of extinguishing the fire, kept on the rescue operation collecting 16 of them from the sea which brought safely off shore.
4. Subsequently and with the care of the hellenic coastguard another coastguard vessel [a life rescue one] was offered which carried the survivors in Leros island for their first reception and medical treatment in cooperation with the local authorities.
5. All the relative elements are available to the competent Public Prosecutor’s Office, under the orders of whom, the prescribed by law investigative actions are taken.
6. Finally, it is underlined that for once more, the Hellenic Coastguard executing the standing orders of the political leadership, has us its supreme mission the vigilant surveillance of the country’s sea borders, the full respect of the human rights, the application of the law in the area of its responsibility and the perservation of the supreme good of live, by rescuing people who are in danger in the sea
answer of the hellenic coast guard to the press release of UNHCR (in greek)

UPDATE 2: 23.1.14

Arrival of the survivors in Piaeus Port / Athens (video)

All the survivors are asking now is for the bodies of their families to be found. 100 metres before the reached the Greek shore they were detected by the GR Coast Guard who started towing them towards Turkey. Water was coming into the boat and some of them tried to climb onto the Coast Guard vessel. The Coast Guard staff kicked their boat preventing them to come on board. Even when people fell into the water, including babies, they didnt give them any life vests/buoys and they didnt let the relatives jump into the water to save the others. Only when 12 people were in the water, and the boat started sinking did the Coast Guard start picking up the rest of them. According to the testimonies, the Coast Guard staff were filming the operation as per usual practice. When people started jumping into the water, they shut the camera and stopped recording.

‘They (the refugees) were trying to climb the door to the Coast Guard vessel and they were hitting them back to fall into the water. A one year old child was crying mummy daddy, they didnt turn around. I lost five people, my wife and four children of 1, 5, 8 and 10 years old.

‘I lost my wife, and my daughter and two sons, 9, 11 and 13 years old. They were intentionally throwing them to the water, they were swearing at them.’

Minister of Shipping Varvitsiotis Reaction on the Allegations 23.1.14
translation KT

“It’s not true at all that we towed the boat towards the turkish coasts, it can be seen by the blurs” clarified at SKAI the minister of shipping.

navagoi1390469911The firm reaction of the minister of Shipping Miltiadis Varvitsiotis have caused the international and national criticism on the shipwreck that happened on Monday in the sea area of Farmakonisi where an unclear number of migrants lost their lives.

“Muznieks (human rights commissioner) and various others want to cause a political issue in Greece. Noone, neither from Pasok or from Syriza came in order to be informed” underlined to Skai and the TV program “Proti Grammi” Mr Varvitsiotis.
“These things can’t be object of a stupid exploitation, I don’t believe there’s someone who wants us to open the gates and all migrants to enjoy asylum in the country” he underlined.

“The migrants ship was adrift at approximately 2,5 nautical miles east from Farmakonisi. The coastguard vessel went in the rough sea in order to tow it. A woman with her child fell in the sea and all migrants turned to that side, causing the capsizing of the boat, the woman and the child. Others were rescued, others were lost” underlined the Minister of Shipping.

“It’s not true at all that we towed the boat towards the Turkish coasts, it can be seen by the blurs” he explained.
Mr Varvitsiotis said that in the Aegean there’s an everyday battle with search and rescue operations of migrants: “Until now we had no loss, we have saved 3.500 people in the sea” he stated.

skai (in greek)


transcription and translation of the UNHCR interview / Tsarbopoulos 23.1.14
by KT

Tsarbopoulos: We asked the other day and we keep on asking for it, even after the announcement of the ministry published yesterday, to have a thorough investigation of the conditions under which this tragic incident took place. I’d like to remind that we are talking about 12 dead and missing people so far, most of them were small children, in an operation that was under the responsibilty of the hellenic coast guard.

And we ask for that, because the testimonies of the survivors, given to UNHCR in Leros, where we first met them, are different than the official interpretation made by the authorities.
And only this element is enough to have a in depth investigation..

journalist: in what exactly are you referring when you say that?

tsarbopoulos: I’m referring to the fact that people say they were asking for help, in order to bring on board of the coast guard vessel the women and the children. The coast guard vessel had tied the refugees boat on to it and was towing, there’s no doubt about that..They say that the coast guard vessel was sailing in high speed and as they also say from the headlights they could see that it was heading towards the turkish coasts, they say that their boat was taking on water that were taking off with their own hands, and they say that when their boat capsized there were no lifejackets, no ropes and only those who knew how to swim and managed to approach [the coast guard vessel] were collected..

I think that these elements are sufficient. I’m not saying that i confirm or not neither of the interpretations, i’m just saying that all this is sufficient to launch a thorough investigation..

As far as we know they were 28 persons on board, 23 afghans and 5 syrians..mostly women and children..

Look, right now we are here as an Organization to accompany them, we are already with them in the ship which shall arrive at the port. They will be taken at the Greek Council for Refugees in order to be firstly psychologically supported and get a legal aid as well..Probably some of them would like to seek asylum. We’ll try to find a place for them to stay..i know that there are volunteers here in the port who had offered hospitality..

journalist: have there been other allegations made to UNHCR concerning such incidents?

tsarbopoulos: like this one..this is a particular one, we are talking about an incident that happened while they were towing the boat..if you are referring to allegations or reports concerning irregular returns to Turkey, yes there have been such..

a journalist asks whether the procedure was illegal

tsarbopoulos: this is something i don’t’s a question of operational evaluation..the interpretation, the explanation is that this was the safest way since the sea was rough..that is to tie and tow them instead to take them on board..

journalist: has the number of the dead people changed?

tsarbopoulos: I have not the latest news.. I knew about two persons that were located close to the turkish shores and were identified by the survivors from their photos..

journalist: there have been reports from international organizations, but so far there is not an official answer by the authorities

tsarbopoulos: to what are you referring?

journalist: to the illegal pushbacks

tsarbopoulos: the official position is that such pushbacks do not take place..

journalists: today, during the informal meeting of the prime ministers would be also discussed the question of the legal/illegal migration, is there any comment you’d like to make about that?

tsarbopoulos: listen, it’s a fact that the people in their effort to reach follow always even more dangerous routes..the sea route is already dangerous [on its own], this is proven by tragic shipwrecks that occur, ok..not only in all remember what happened in Italy, last year, near Lampedusa..this question needs a european approach it is not a national issue.. Europe should see in which way it could facilitate legal routes for the arrival of migrants and refugees of course..and how states can better cooperate in order to reinforce the efforts to rescue them, indipendently from where these persons are going, indipendently from which country’s territorial waters they are in, indipendenty from whether they are refugees or migrants..we are talking about human lives..

journalist: what’s your opinion on the EU/Turkey readmission agreement?

tsarbopoulos: listen, this readmission agreement if it offers all the guarantees foreseen in the Geneva Convention is an agreement that could facilitate the return following legal procdures…from then one, we should in practice how they are being applied.

more videos of the arrival in Piraeus from greek mainstream media:
mega tv

UPDATE 3: 24.1.14

The Naval Court of Piraeus has ordered an urgent preliminary investigation of the tragic sinking near Farmakonisi on the 20th of January, which resulted in 12 deaths.
Meanwhile, the Hellenic Coast Guard has issued a statement explaining that the boat carrying the refugees was being tugged to safety due to the extreme weather conditions and capsized when the passengers suddenly shifted to one side. The Coast Guard has denied allegations of abuse and that it was pushing the refugees back into Turkey.

map of the greek coast guard showing the alleged position of the boats

map of the greek coast guard showing the alleged position of the boats

The Minister of Shipping Varvitsiotis speaking in radio ‘Sto Kokkino’ said today that there is no political responsibility for the incident. On contrary 3,500 persons have been saved in the Aegean by the Coast Guard. As he emphasised, the national strategy to ‘fight against illegal migration’ has to continue. Furthermore, it is a premature conclusion to talk about ‘pushback’ or ‘failed push-back’ before any investigation is carried out. As he claims the dots [on the satellite map] show that: ‘the boat was more to the East and the place where it sunk was more to the West which proves that the boat was being towed towards the Greek coast’. On human rights commissioner Muiznieks, in particular, he said that he has sent letters to him and they are in a dialogue, but his statement about a ‘violent failed pushback’ was a mistake. He should never have said something like this that is insulting Greece, its Coast Guard and the political leadership.
Referring to other reported cases of push-backs brought to their attention in the recent past, and as long as he is in office, ‘have been investigated in depth and none of them has been proven’. Being asked by the journalist on the shocking testimonies of the survivors that actually have no reason to lie, he replied:
‘We have many other testimonies – also people who lost their children- that are saying the opposite, that the Coastguard immediately collected them on board and helped them, that those left in the boat sunk with it, and that they rescued all those that went to the back of the boat and fell into water. This is stated by Mr Kaider Raen who has lost children. I have the testimony of Mr Safer Aswarnuala who said that all who were on the water’s surface were picked up by the coast gaurd, they rescued us’. This one has lost his wife, two sons and two daughters and yet states these things. We have more testimonies. I dont make these things up. I can not accept that there is any staff man or woman in the coast guard and that the crew during a rescue operation works with the aim to drown people, I see how these people operate and how they are affected by such incidents.’

A number of antiracist and solidarity organisation together with SYRIZA, The Ecological Party and migrant communities called for a protest on Saturday 25th January at 12:00 in Syndagma Square in front of the Parliament in Athens.

avgi (in greek)
ta nea (in greek)
to vima (in greek)

Greece’s merchant marine minister says the survivors had initially said the Greek Coast Guard saved them, but later accused the Coast Guard of badly mishandling the rescue operation

The minister, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, today said the alleged change in accounts was “striking and curious.” Meanwhile the survivors state that they have never reported to the police about the incident. Read here the witness accounts as supposingly documented by the Coast Guard and to which the Minister of Shipping referred.

Allegedly by the authorities documented testimonies
translated by KT

Testimony Α

Question: What do you know about the incident?
Answer: We started from Turkey with a wooden boat. Somewhere during the trip the boat broke and we couldn’t go on. During the trip the Turkish trafficker called my husband on his cell phone and asked him to give him the captain to speak. I was in the boat and inside the cabin with my child. When we started from Turkey the Turkish smuggler told the women and children to get inside the cabin of the boat. When our boat broke down the COast Guard vessel the Coast came, threw us a rope and towed our boat to theirs to pull us. Somewhere on the way the boat had started taking on water. I yelled to my husband for help and he came and got me and my child out. The other men did not come to get the women and children from inside. Two people fell in the sea but I do not know why. All went on one side of the boat to see and shortly after the boat capsized. When the two fell into the sea the officers shouted to us to sit down and stay at our places. Those who could swim went near their boat and they pulled us on board.
Question: What were the weather conditions?
Answer: The weather was very bad. It was windy, there were waves and the boat was moving.
Question: In what condition was your boat?
Answer: Medium.
Question: You know how to swim?
Answer: I don’t know how to swim and I had no life-jacket. Only my husband was wearing one.
Question: What do you think would have happened if the coast guard vessel had not come to save you?
Answer: I believe we would have died all. Maybe our boat would have even capsized by itself due to the weather.
Question: Following your rescue what is your opinion about the officers of the Coast Guard vessel and the Coast Guard authorities in Leros?
Answer: They were very good. They gave us dry clothes, water and food and brought us directly to hospital. There we stayed with my husband and our baby precautionary.
Question: do you have to add anything?
Answer: No.

Testimony B

Question: what do you know about the incident?
Answer: before we started, …. got on board together with a turkish who show him how to sail the boat. Obviously he hadn’t sailed before. Then they returned, the turkish got off board and we got on board. During the trip the engine broke and the boat was left adrift in the sea. When we were adrift, the captain called someone for help. Then the coastguard vessel came and the crew told us to stay calm and in our positions. They tied the boat with a rope from the prow and started towing us. After a while the hook of the boat broke, where they had tied the rope. The crew stopped the vessel and immediately threw us the rope to tied it. We tied it and we proceeded with the towing. During the towing the waves were big and the coast guard crew screamed to stay in our positions, but we didn’t do it. We moved abruptly all to one side of the boat. Once we moved, the boat capsized and we fell in the sea. The coast guard crew collected the ones who were on the surface of the sea.
Question: what were the weather conditions in the region?
Answer: the weather was bad. There were many waves and they didn’t gave us a lifejacket
Question: what was the condition of the boat you were on board?
Answer: the boat was relatively ok but the engine was not in a good condition. It broke en route and we were left adrift
Question: do you know how to swim? have you ever been on a boat?
Answer: i have swam in the river in Afghanistan. We don’t have a sea and i’ve never been on a boat before
Question: what’s your opinion for the behavior after your rescue and your detention conditions?
Answer: i have no complaint. on the island they treated us well
Question: is there anything else you want to add?
Answer: no

Testimony C

Question: What do you know about the incident?
Answer: we left from turkey by boat. The boat broke. There was something with the engine. After a while the coast guard vessel arrived and tied our boat to theirs from the front part and started towing us. Then the hook were the rope was tied, broke. We were in panic and they yelled at us to be calm. They threw us again the rope and we tied it again on our boat. We told them we have children and we don’t have to die. They started towing us, there were waves but then our boat started taking on water. All of a sudden, two persons from our boat fell in the sea. At the back part of the boat, somewhere in the engine, it was taking on water. We moved abruptly to the other side
Question: what were the weather conditions in the region?
Answer: the weather was good when we left from turkey. After around midnight the weather got worse and our boat was shaking.
Question: what was the boat condition when you got on board?
Answer: Medium condition, not an old one nor a new one
Question: do you know how to swim?
Answer: i don’t know how to swim, i have never been on a boat before and i didn’t have a lifejacket
Question: what are the names of those you lost?
Answer: my mother 35 years old, my sister 13, my two brothers 11 and 9 years old.

Testimony D

Question: what do you know about the incident?
Answer: we started from turkey and during the trip the engine broke. After a while the coastguard vessel arrived which tied our boat onto theirs and started towing. They tied the rope on the front part of our boat and they dragging us behind them. After a while the rope broke and they tied it again. Then our boat started taking on water. Then our boat was capsized and we all fell in the sea. They started collecting us immediately until those of us who had fell in the sea had come out.
Question: did you see the hole?
Answer: no
Question: the boat was affidable?
Answer: the boat was an old one and the engine wasn’t good as it broke and we were left adrift. two persons fell in the sea, two men. then we all gathered on one side of the boat and declined [i don’t know the word in english] and it capsized and we all fell in the sea. immediately the coast guard came and collected those who fell in the sea. two minutes after the boat sank.
Question: when you all went from one side did the crew tell you to leave from there and stay in your positions?
Answer: they told it but we didn’t listen to them because we wanted to see what happened.
Question: what were the weather conditions in the region? did the boat have lifejackets?
Answer: the weather was bad there were big waves and it was very windy. there were no lifejackets on the boat.
Question: do you know how to swim? have you ever been on a boat before?
Answer: no i don’t know how to swim, i’ve never been on a boat before
Question: do you remember how many people were in the cabin?
Answer: i think 11 women and children
Question: did the turkish smugglers gave you orders to stay in the lower part of the boat during your trip?
Answer: no
Question: would you have been saved if the coastguard vessel hadn’t arrived?
Answer: no, we would have died
Question: when you were left adrift did you call someone for help in turkey and if so who and what happened?
Answer: we didn’t call anyone for help and there was no turkish vessel nearby
Question: after you were rescued what was the behavior of the crew and of the port authorities staff?
Answer: we were pleased by the help we got in leros

Testimony E

Question: who was sailing the boat when you left from turkey and until you reached greece?
Answer: the person you show me in that picture was sailing the boat. It was on his own. during the trip he would talk on the phone. I don’t know in which language or with whom
Question: were there lifejackets on the boat?
Answer: the turks told us before we start that they would give us lifejackets once we got on board but they never did
Question: were there sailing lights?
Answer: only the green and the red
Question:in what condition was the boat and the engine you were on board?
Answer: it wasn’t a new or an old one, but before arriving to greece the engine broke
Question: the size of the boat was big enough to carry 28 persons?
Answer: we were fine, we were not pilled
Question: how much money did you pay to the smugglers?
Answer: i gave 6.500 for me, my wife and our child to the turkish smugglers. my wife and child were lost when the boat sank.

koutitispandoras (in greek) (in greek)
deutsche welle (in greek)
unfollow (in greek)

Survivors were detained 30 hours instead of receiving psychological support, activist says

Matina Katsiveli, a local activist from Leros, told To Kokkino radio that the survivors after being hosted in a pension immediately upon being brought to the island were then held for 30 (!!!) hours in detention. (in greek)

Malmstrom: We’ve done alot for Greece

Germany and Sweden have received the largest number of migrants, stated today the european commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom saying we’ve sone many things for greece in migration.
she admitted we have an obbligation in EU to help Greece and added that we are closely cooperating with the greek ministers to create a functional asylum system. She expressed her sorrow for the tragedy in farmakonisi and her deside to have an independent investigation about the fact.

Audio file uncovered by Hot Doc magazine of the Greek head of police stating: “We have to make their lives unliveable” (in greek)
newsit (in greek)
washingtonpost (in english)

Police trying to frighten the survivors
translated by KT; source: infowar (see link bellow)

The police drags continuously the survivors of the shipwreck in the police station, trying to “break” the spirit of the survivors. The testimonies leak in the Press.
In a strangehold from the police and under a regime of a continous disturb they are, according to allegations the survivors of the shipwreck of Farmakonisi, who denounced the role of the hellenic coastguard.
The afghan comunity denounces continous adductions to the police of the survivors. Today at 10:30 in the morning just 50mt from the place where they have found refuge the police adducted a young refugee who lost three of his family members in the shipwreck. They took him to the police station even though he had all the legal documents and was accompanied by the head of the afghan comunity. According to the allegation he was taken to Omonia’s police station. In the afternoon, always at a short distance from the place where refugees are, the police adducted the father who has lost his four children. He also had all of his documents with him. At 15:45 the police adducted other three persons from the shipwreck, who all carried with them their documents. Since this morning the police leaked in the media the testimonies of unknown sources that presumibly the victims gave and according to which there are no responsibilities of the coast guard.

infowar (in greek)

Answer of the Headquarter of the Hellenic Coastguard on the allegations concerning the case of Farmakonisi
translated by KT

For the complete restoration of the truth and of the reality, with regards to the allegations for presumible violence and denial to offer help to illegal migrants in danger in the sea region of Farmakonisi on the 20th January 2014, by members of the Hellenic Coastguard, the following is underlined:

Tragedies like the one in Farmakonisi shock the social network and also the members of the Hellenic Coastguard especially the crews of the vessels of the hellenic coastguard that make any possible effort in order to save people who are in danger and avoid the loss of human lives. Every human loss in the sea, as it is obvious shocks above all the members of the Hellenic Coastguard, automatically though armors them and makes them put even more effort when dealing with similar incidents in the future.
The members of the Hellenic Coastguard within their duties, patrol on a daily basis, 24hr/day with all the available operational means (vessels, aircrafts,vehicles) for a more sufficient surveillance of our sea borders, the rescue of people in danger in the sea and the interception and dismantling of organized networks of illegal smuggling of migrants who exploit these persons and the difficult situation they are in.
The absolute respect for human rights and individual liberties is the only criterion when planning and undertaking every action of the hellenic coastguard staff, putting a titnic effort, under difficult weather conditions and particularities of the sea field against the smuggling boats, which most of the times are not safe to sail, in order to rescue all the people who are in danger in the sea.
Charachteristically, it is underlined that from 2011-2013 the Hellenic Coastguard took charge of over 550 cases of illegal migration dealing with 11.741 illegal migrants. From those, 118 concerned a search and rescue operation in which the Hellenic Coastguard rescued from death 3.186 illegal migrants.
Moreover, the patrol vessel involved in the Farmakonisi case, was involved in 2012 in one incident of illegal entrance of migrants which concerned 24 illegal migrants. The incident was at the same time search and rescue operation, which was completed with success. At the same time, the lifesaving vessel that operates in the same area, took charge of 2 incidents with 37 illegal migrants of whom one was a search and rescue operation with 22 illegal migrants which was completed successfully.
In 2013 the patrol vessel involved in the current Farmakonisi case, took charge of an incident of illegal entrance of migrants, concerning 40 illegal migrants. This incident was at the same time a search and rescue operation, successfully completed. At the same time, the lifesaving vessel, which operates in the area, dealt with 5 incidents concerning 146 illegal migrants, in incidents of search and rescue, which were all completed successfully. The above real and true data should be seriously taken into consideration by those who today accuse the crew of the coastguard vessel with immoral and fake allegations, serving, obviously individual aims.
Αs a result, unwisely, rushed and generalized accusations against the Hellenic Coastguard for οmission, negligence or even for illegal behavior of the members of the hellenic coastguard in cases of illegal migration, aim only in the creation of impresion, to lower the prestige and the credibility of the Hellenic Coastguard and to undermine the spirit of its staff in this gigantic daily effort in the sea field to protect the sea borders of the european union, contributing at the same time at the rescue of people who are in danger in the sea, indipendently of race, religion and color.
In 2013 the patrol vessel involved in the case of Farmakonisi dealt with an incident of illegal entrance of migrants, involving 40 illegal migrants. This incident was a search and rescue incident at the same time, which was successfully completed. Parallel, at the same time, the lifesaving vessel that operates in the same area, dealt with 5 incidents with 146 illegal migrans which were search and rescue incidents and were successfully completed. The above mentioned real and true data should be seriously taken into consideratiion by those who today accuse the crews of the coastguard vessels for immoral and false accusations, obviously serving their own interests.
As a result, unwise, rushed and generalized accuastions against the hellenic coastguard for ommission or negligence or even more for illegal behavior of its members in incidents of illegal migration aim only to the creation of impression, to reduce the prestige and the credibility of the Hellenic Coastguard and to undermine the moral of its staff in this gigantic effort it makes on a daily basis in the greek sea field to guard the sea borders of the european union, helping at the same time to rescue people who are in danger in the sea, independently from their race, religious and color.
Finally, we inform that the competent public prosecutor of the Naval Court of Pireaus, as an independent authority, as ordered an urgent preliminary examination in order to investigate the circumstances of the incident as it was in any case asked from the first moment by the political and military leadership.

Source (in greek)

Mourning of the dead in the Afghan community of Athens - 24.1.14 / copyright Giorgos Moutafis

Mourning of the dead in the Afghan community of Athens – 24.1.14 / copyright Giorgos Moutafis

UPDATE 4: 25.1.14

On Saturday the survivors together with solidarity groups hold a protest where they shared more details of the tragic incident with the public:

God saved us. The greek coast guards saw the turkish boats and panicked. If they had had time they’d have killed us all.

They should bring psychologists to listen to us and judge if we lie. The Minister was not there, we were. The only thing we ask for is the corpses of our beloved to be recovered.

The coast guard tried to pull us to Turkey. Due to the waves and the bad weather and because of the overall panic, people started falling in the sea.

The boat started sinking with our women and children and they (the coast guards) were shooting in the air, saying ‘fuck you’ and ‘we’ll kill you all’. Then my wife and my wife were in the sea and I begged them to give me a lifebelt so I could save them. They insulted me. They didn’t let me save my family. When I understood they were going to drown I said they should kill me too.

Then they brought us to the island. They brought us for the eyes of the people in a luxury restaurant. It didn’t last for long. Then they threw us in the cells where we stayed with our wet clothes for hours and the police was beating us. I have been in other European countries but I never saw such police.

They brought us a bunch of papers to sign without any interpreter – anything. When they brought finally interpreters they were the most unsuitable. They spoke Persian so they wouldn’t understand what we said. When a representative of UNHCR came everything changed and they wanted to show that they saved us.

Now they say that we thanked them for saving us, the ones who killed our children and our wives. We never said thank you, we were crying asking for their bodies.

And a representative of the Syrian community said:

Why they called it centre for search and rescue? They kill us, we don’t want this kind of savours. Do you know what’s going on in Syria? We don’t come by our free will. We are forced to become refugees!

The last 18 months 107 refugees died in the Aegean sea according to official statistics. Media reported about 168 cases the least while the real number remains unknown.

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Documentation of the interviews survivors gave on JAnuary 25th, 2014 during the protest in Syndagma by the Greek Forum of Refugees (in english):

Mr. Safi Ehsanullah, one the survivors who has lost his wife and 4 children, said:

“There were 26 of us, 23 Afghans and three Syrians in a boat that sailed from Turkey at approximately 10:00 or 10:30 at night. After almost 2 hours we were close to the Greek shore when the engine of our boat got out of order. We were not so far and if there was no help, we planned to make a human chain from the boat to the shore in order to reach the land. Suddenly the Greek coast guard appeared and from the first moment they started shouting on us not to move and talk. We were glad, as we thought that they would save us. Two of them got inside our boat and tied our boat to their own. But unexpectedly they turned back and were pulling us back to Turkey with zigzag and very high speed. Suddenly the part of the ship to which the Greek coastal guard’s ship was tied, broke off from the ship carrying the refugees, causing great damage to the boat and thus allowing water to flood the boat. The boat was old and frail, and began to sink. The guard gave the order to tie the boat again and to start pulling again, but the boat was full of water so they cut the robe and tried to escape. Refugees’ belongings, bags, etc. stuck to the coast boat engine and it started to
emit smoke and there was a panic among the coast guard. They tried to extinguish the fire and it was by chance that the refugees who were still on the water could hang to coast guard ship but the guards preventing refugees to get in their boat kicking and shouting on them. One of survivors from Syria, tried saving a woman by extending her a stick from the safety of the coastal guard boat, but was brutally prevented by a member of the coastal guard, who beat the man assisting the woman”.
Answering the reporters’ question, “why did they signed at the port a document saying that the coastal guard saved them and why they didn’t complained and didn’t report this at Leros Island?
-Safi said: “first there was no translator in our language. There was one from Pakistan that just three of us could understand a little bit. The translator couldn’t read and they wrote what they wanted and they asked us to sign without reading or understanding it. We thought that we were signing for clothes that we received upon arrival. We never signed anything like what we are hearing now from the media”.
There were interventions from representatives of organizations and movements expressing their solidarity with the survivors, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. They condemned the Greek and European policy at the border not saving the lives of migrants and refugees.

The president of Greek Forum of Refugees, Mr. Yonous Muhammadi – said:

“This incident is not individual. Just last year tens of victims have been registered officially, but we know there are many victims never recorded. We have very usual complaints of push backs and violence at sea or land borders. There has never been an answer to or investigation of these serious complaints, although Greece has been convicted many times by the European court of Human Rights concerning the rights of migrants and refugees crossing Greek borders. We have many cases in which the boats of migrants and asylum seekers have been pushed back close to Turkish shore and have been destroyed in the water, putting in danger the life of people on board. We have many complaints of humiliation and tortures of asylum seekers crossing borders.
First it is imperative for us to grant the wish of the survivors, which is that their relatives, trapped inside the hull of the ship, be brought to land. Second we ask the EU and the Greek authorities to investigate this case seriously and take serious decisions to prevent more victims in Aegean”.