Nine child­ren and three women died when their ves­sel sank near a Greek island ear­ly Mon­day morning while being towed by the Greek Coast Guard.

Accord­ing to the sur­vi­vors, the Greek coast guard ves­sel was towing the boat toward the Tur­kish coast at high speed when the boat cap­si­zed. Sur­vi­vors tell that they were cry­ing out for help, given that a lar­ge num­ber of child­ren and babies were on board. 

In con­trast to the survivors’s accounts, the Greek Port Aut­ho­ri­ty has alle­ged that due to bad wea­ther con­di­ti­ons the Coast Guard had laun­ched a res­cue ope­ra­ti­on to tow the boat toward the Greek island of Far­ma­ko­ni­si. Accord­ing to the Greek aut­ho­ri­ties, during the ope­ra­ti­on a lar­ge num­ber of tho­se on board gathe­red on one side of the boat, which resul­ted in its over­tur­ning and sin­king.

“It is high­ly likely that this action by the Greek coast guard was an ille­gal push-back ope­ra­ti­on rather than a res­cue at sea “ said Karl Kopp, Direc­tor of European Affairs of Pro Asyl.

In a report published in Novem­ber, Pro Asyl detail­ed how refu­gees attemp­t­ing to cross the EU’s exter­nal bor­ders with Tur­key are sys­te­ma­ti­cal­ly pushed back from Greek ter­ri­to­ri­al waters, the Greek islands and from the land bor­der. The Pro Asyl report spe­ci­fi­cal­ly out­lined vio­la­ti­ons that had occur­red on or in the pro­xi­mi­ty of Far­ma­ko­ni­si.

Having taken con­trol of the boat, the Greek aut­ho­ri­ties took respon­si­bi­li­ty for tho­se on board. Pro Asyl and ECRE call for an inde­pen­dent and effec­tive inves­ti­ga­ti­on of the cir­cum­s­tan­ces that cau­sed such loss of life. The NGOs rei­tera­te that push-backs are ille­gal, end­an­ger people’s lives and have to end imme­dia­te­ly.

“The­se are European bor­ders, mana­ged with European money, and with the sup­port of the EU bor­der agen­cy Fron­tex. The EU has a respon­si­bi­li­ty to take all mea­su­res nee­ded to ensu­re that life is given prio­ri­ty and fun­da­men­tal rights are respec­ted at its bor­ders”, said ECRE’s Secreta­ry Gene­ral Micha­el Diedring. “At the time of the Greek Pre­si­den­cy all efforts should be taken to pro­tect life and stop the­se human rights vio­la­ti­ons”.

The European Com­mis­si­on has allo­ca­ted almost € 227,576,503 mil­li­on for Greece under the Return Fund and the Exter­nal Bor­ders Fund bet­ween 2011 and 2013.

 EU-Par­li­a­ment deba­te about the refu­gee tra­ge­dy of Far­ma­ko­ni­si – European Respon­si­bi­li­ty (06.02.14)

 PRO ASYL releases new report: “PUSHED BACK”  (07.11.13)

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