In the night of the 12.05.2015 a refugee boat by the name of “M/S Sula” carrying 192 refugees got in distress near Palaiochora, Crete. The mainly Syrian passengers were saved and brought to a closed gym. According to testimonies of refugees the police authorities wrote registration numbers on their arms while they were sleeping. Representatives of local NGOs explained, this was a common practice during massive arrivals on the island.
It’s the second arrival of a refugee boat in Crete within one month. The “M/S Sula” had reportedly started in Antalya, Turkey and was heading towards Italy when the bad weather conditions forced the refugees to send SOS to Greek authorities. Most of the passengers were Syrian protection seekers while there were also some Palestinians. There were also 70 children among them as well as five unaccompanied minors. All refugees were first brought to a closed gym. The minors were then transferred the next day to detention in the police station of Souda/Chania awaiting a free place in a reception center for minors. UNHCR and IOM representatives visited them the first day of arrival. On May 14, 2015 most of the newcomers were transferred to Athens with an official note that allows them to stay for six months in Greece.
In the meantime, six persons were arrested and charged as smugglers. One of these arrested was traveling with his wife. She had to be brought to emergency department of the Hospital of Chania because of a panic attack on May 14, 2015 and following the arrest of her husband.
R. from Syria:
“We went to Lebanon and from there to Turkey. We wanted to go directly to Italy. Our boat was only 35 meters long while we were more than 180 persons. It was in a very bad condition being rusty and old and the waves were getting very high. We were four days on the sea. It was very dangerous. Some people got crazy of fear and started screaming. All people in the boat vomited. We were alone in the sea. No other ships. We called for help. Then the Greek authorities came and brought us to Crete. The police wrote registration numbers on our arms. They called me with the number. That is horrible. It’s not my name.”
M. from Syria:
“I am from Damascus. I lost everything in Syria. I just have my family. A lot of friends are dead. Some of my friends escaped to Europe. Others stayed in Syria fighting. I want to go to Germany to save my family. (…) When no NGOs and no journalists are here in the gym during night, they start shouting on us. They also don’t allow us to go out. The first night while I was sleeping, they came and wrote on my arm this number. I feel horrible about this. Why they put a number on me? Why they call me by a number? We are humans. We have names. Even they wrote numbers on small children arms.”
See also: Hellenic Coast Guard Press Release