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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