Boats like these are often used by refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. Foto: Christian Gohdes

On 9 August, the Aegean became once more a graveyard: Seven refugee children died in the attempt to reach Greece after a boat capsized off the coast of Aydin province. Three years ago, the image of a small boy washed up on a Turkish beach led to an outcry. It became a symbol of the consequences of Europe’s refugee policy.

On 9 August, the Aege­an beca­me a gra­vey­ard for seven refu­gee child­ren after a boat car­ry­ing around 13 refu­gees sank off the coast of Aydin pro­vin­ce. A total of 9 peop­le lost their lives. This recent tra­ge­dy hap­pen­ed near­ly three years after Alan Kur­di, a small boy from Syria, drow­ned along with his mother and five-year old bro­ther when the boat that car­ri­ed them cap­si­zed off the coast of Tur­key. The har­ro­wing images of his litt­le lifeless body see­med to sen­si­ti­ze the glo­bal com­mu­ni­ty about the refu­gee crisis.

Sin­ce then, Euro­pean lea­ders’ empa­thy for the tra­ge­dy unfol­ding on Europe’s shores has tur­ned to shame­ful poli­ci­es. The deaths of thousands are met with unethi­cal deals that only focus on redu­cing arri­vals. In the Aege­an, the poli­cy effec­ted the con­tain­ment of thousands of refu­gees in mise­ra­ble con­di­ti­ons in one of the island hot­spots with the aim of retur­ning the arri­ving refu­gees back to Turkey.

Sea arrivals decline, death rate rises 

UNHCR’s recent bleak announ­ce­ment on refu­gee deaths at sea con­ti­nuing in pro­por­tio­nal­ly lar­ger num­bers – sup­ports this point.  Bet­ween Janu­a­ry and ear­ly August, 1,522 refu­gees and migrants died during their attempt to reach Euro­pe. Out of tho­se, 105 inclu­ding at least 28 child­ren peris­hed in the Aege­an sea, off Turkey’s Medi­ter­ra­ne­an coast and off the coast of Nort­hern Cyprus.

Fur­ther, at least 11 refu­gees inclu­ding eight child­ren and their mothers have lost their lives in three sepa­ra­te inci­dents this year in an attempt to reach Greece through Evros river.

There is a human life behind every of these numbers

Zubair’s sto­ry is descri­bed to us by his bro­ther Darab. Zubair – bet­ter known as Sahil among his fami­ly and friends – was 9 years old. He died along with his 16 year-old bro­ther, elder sis­ter, father and four cou­sins when the boat that car­ri­ed them cap­si­zed near the island of Aga­tho­ni­si on 16 March 2018. 16 refu­gees inclu­ding 9 child­ren were kil­led in the tra­ge­dy. Only three sur­vi­ved. Detail­ed con­ver­sa­ti­ons by PRO ASYL/RSA with the sur­vi­vors, hos­pi­tal staff and local aut­ho­ri­ties as well as rese­arch con­duc­ted by the news­ma­ga­zi­ne Spie­gel indi­ca­te a fail­u­re by the Greek coast­guard to con­duct a prompt search and res­cue operation.

‘He would turn tears into laugh­ter and kis­ses’ the sur­vi­vor of his fami­ly told us. While we are tal­king it gets clear, that Zubair was ado­red by his fami­ly. He was mis­sing his mother desper­ate­ly, who had pre­vious­ly mana­ged to reach Greece with two sib­lings. He loved going to school but had to stop when the fami­ly fled Afghanistan.

His death was bru­tal and lonely. The three sole sur­vi­vors of the tra­ge­dy said that Zubair fought hard with the waves and the cold in order to sur­vi­ve and he died alo­ne as the others had alrea­dy drow­ned or were unconscious.

Europe’s lea­ders have deli­ber­ate­ly cho­sen to igno­re the dis­tress of despe­ra­te refu­gee fami­lies. In the absence of legal and safe rou­tes to reach Euro­pe, men, women and child­ren are for­ced to under­ta­ke the­se cru­el and often let­hal jour­neys in order to seek pro­tec­tion and reuni­fi­ca­ti­on with their loved ones. Zubair’s death is the macab­re suc­cess of a Euro­pean refu­gee poli­cy fol­lowing only one goal: to clo­se off escape rou­tes at any costs.