During the ear­ly hours of 20 Janu­a­ry 2014, three women and eight child­ren from Afgha­ni­stan died off the coast of the Greek island Far­ma­ko­ni­si. A fishing boat car­ry­ing 27 refu­gees from Afgha­ni­stan and Syria sank while being towed by the Greek Coast Guard. The sur­vi­vors accu­se the Greek Coast Guard of towing them at full speed towards Tur­key alt­hough the sea was rough and stor­my. The Coast Guard claims that the boat was pul­led slow­ly towards Far­ma­ko­ni­si. The refu­gees descri­be an ille­gal push-back ope­ra­ti­on, Greek aut­ho­ri­ties claim that they attemp­ted a res­cue at sea operation. 

Mem­bers of the Coast Guard also sta­te that this dead­ly mis­si­on took place wit­hin the frame­work of the Fron­tex ope­ra­ti­on Posei­don. Until today, Fron­tex denies any respon­si­bi­li­ty for the death of the­se ele­ven refu­gees and for human rights vio­la­ti­ons in the Aege­an Sea.

Both the files of inqui­ry of the Pro­se­cu­tor of Pirae­us‘ Mari­ne Court as well as the report of an inde­pen­dent ship­ping expert only allow for one con­clu­si­on: the­re was no res­cue at sea ope­ra­ti­on.  All inter­na­tio­nal stan­dards regar­ding res­cue at sea were dis­re­gar­ded. Accord­ing to the expert’s opi­ni­on, the way in which the towing took place cau­sed the dest­ruc­tion of the alrea­dy dis­ab­led boat and led to its sinking.

The Coast Guard had sim­ply igno­red the laws of phy­sics: the rope used for towing the fishing boat was only ten meters long and the­re­fo­re too short. The Coast Guard reck­less­ly took the risk that high waves would drown the fishing boat and that the pul­ling for­ce would dama­ge the boat causing it to sink.

It is bey­ond dis­pu­te that the litt­le fishing boat was towed by the ship of the coast guard.

It is fur­ther bey­ond dis­pu­te that offi­cers of the Coast Guard boar­ded the dis­ab­led boat in order to fas­ten a rope.

Offi­cers who par­ti­ci­pa­ted in the ope­ra­ti­on later sta­ted that the boat was pul­led for ten minu­tes after the rope had been fas­te­ned. It was pul­led for ano­t­her five minu­tes, after the fas­tening bro­ke and after the rope had been reat­ta­ched pro­vi­sio­nal­ly. Thus, the boat had been pul­led for at least 15 minu­tes by the Greek Coast Guard and the­re­fo­re was under its full con­trol befo­re it sank.

The­re had been ple­nty of oppor­tu­nities to res­cue the pro­tec­tion see­kers, but no res­cue at sea was initia­ted. The refu­gees were not taken on board the Coast Guard ves­sel and not even han­ded life vests.

No res­cue at sea but bor­der control 

The Coast Guard’s claim that the­re was a res­cue at sea ope­ra­ti­on does not com­ply with the files of inqui­ry. It is a fact that the Coast Guard had only infor­med the Sea Res­cue Ope­ra­ti­on Cen­ter in Pirae­us at 02:13 o’clock, after the boat had alrea­dy sunk. Befo­re that, only the bor­der con­trol ope­ra­ti­on cen­ter had been infor­med. This means: The­re was no for­mal res­cue at sea ope­ra­ti­on but an ope­ra­ti­on to ensu­re bor­der con­trol. This aspect sup­ports the state­ments of the sur­vi­vors indi­ca­ting that the­re was a push back operation. 

The refu­gee boat cap­si­zed after the Greek Coast Guard – accord­ing to their own state­ment – was for­ced to cut the rope which con­nec­ted their ship to the refu­gee boat. The boat – with women and child­ren under deck – was drag­ged under water. A mother with her son was found dead by the Tur­kish Coast Guard the next day. The body of a baby was found days later off the coast of Samos. The remai­ning eight bodies were reco­ve­r­ed weeks later from the body of the boat. 16 peop­le made it to the Coast Guard Ves­sel. 

Cover-ups: chro­no­lo­gi­cal sequence was alte­red, all tech­ni­cal sys­tems out of order 

The respon­si­ble port aut­ho­ri­ty of Leros repor­ted in the ear­ly morning of 20 Janu­a­ry 2014 that the refu­gee boat was sei­zed by the Coast Guard at 01:25. Hours later on the same day, this report was cor­rec­ted, sta­ting the sei­zu­re at 02:00 – 35 minu­tes later. This dif­fe­rence of 35 minu­tes is of cri­ti­cal impor­t­ance. A sei­zu­re at 02:00 and a sin­king at 02:13 would mean that wit­hin 13 minu­tes two offi­cers had boar­ded the boat, it had been towed twice and then 16 sur­vi­vors mana­ged to get onto the coast guard ves­sel. This account seems impos­si­ble from a pure­ly cal­cu­la­ti­ve point of view.

A part from the diver­ging time spe­ci­fi­ca­ti­ons, the­re are no tech­ni­cal record­ings of the dead­ly ope­ra­ti­on: no GPS- or radar record­ings, no docu­men­ta­ti­on of tele­pho­ne or radio com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on, no pho­tos or vide­os. Accord­ing to a state­ment of the bor­der agen­cy Fron­tex, no data was inser­ted into the new bor­der sur­veil­lan­ce sys­tem EUROSUR. 

The sur­vi­vors

Five of the sur­vi­vors have rela­ti­ves in Ger­ma­ny. After mon­ths of nego­tia­ti­ons, they were able to legal­ly tra­vel to Ham­burg and Ber­lin on 21 and 22 Novem­ber 2015.

Huma­ni­ta­ri­an visa, which would enab­le them to safe­ly get to their rela­ti­ves in other Euro­pean coun­tries, were not gran­ted to ano­t­her ten sur­vi­vors. Just like any other pro­tec­tion see­ker in Greece, they were for­ced to lea­ve the coun­try on irre­gu­lar, peri­lous routes.

The six­te­enth sur­vi­vor of the Far­ma­ko­ni­si cata­stro­phe, a young refu­gee from Syria, is being held in inves­ti­ga­ti­ve cus­to­dy in Greece. Wit­hin the next weeks his tri­al will take place. Greek aut­ho­ri­ties claim that he was the cap­tain of the boat and want to impr­i­son him for deca­des for being a smugg­ler. The other sur­vi­vors empha­si­ze howe­ver:  ‘He is just like us. A refu­gee. The­re was no smugg­ler on board.’

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