Rights groups decry Greek investigation into migrant shipwreck that left more than 500 dead | Greece #Rights #groups #decry #Greek #investigation #migrant #shipwreck #left #dead #Greece

Human rights groups have deplored the lack of progress made by Greek authorities in their investigation into the controversial circumstances in which a migrant ship sank off the Peloponnese – leaving more than 500 dead – in one of the Mediterranean’s worst ever boat disasters.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International claim there are credible allegations that the Hellenic Coast Guard’s “actions and omissions” contributed to the 14 June shipwreck.

Six months on, with investigations far from over and survivors demanding justice, campaigners said there were concerns “about the prospects for accountability”, because of the way the inquiry had been conducted.

“The Pylos shipwreck appears to be another tragic example of Greek authorities’ abdication of responsibility for saving lives at sea,” said Judith Sunderland, associate Europe and central Asia director at HRW.

“A full accounting of what happened is paramount to securing truth and justice for survivors and families of the victims and to help avoid future deaths.”

The fishing trawler piloted by people smugglers from Libya and bound for Italy, sank about 50 miles (80km) off the southern Greek town of Pylos in the early hours of 14 June, five days after it first set sail and 15 hours after Greek authorities were alerted to the boat being in their search and rescue region. Crammed with about 750 men, women and children it went down within minutes.

In an ensuing rescue operation described as both fraught and chaotic, 104 male survivors – from Syria, Egypt and Pakistan – were brought ashore. The trawler, which sank in one of the Mediterranean’s deepest areas, has yet to be found although in the days that followed 82 bodies were discovered.

Protesters release hot air balloons in front of the Greek parliament as a tribute to the victims of the shipwreck.
Protesters release hot air balloons in front of the Greek parliament as a tribute to the victims of the shipwreck. Photograph: Spyros Bakalis/AFP/Getty Images

From the start, rights groups voiced concerns over the contrasting accounts of the events that led to the disaster. While survivors described the vessel at first listing and then capsizing after coast guard officers tried to tow the trawler out of Hellenic waters, Greek officials say no such attempt was made. Instead, they insist, the boat sank in international seas when the coastguard was about 70 meters away.

But based on interviews with 21 survivors, five relatives of people still missing, representatives of the Greek coast guard and police, international aid organisations and the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch claimed Greek authorities had not only failed to mobilise “appropriate resources for a rescue” but had “ignored or redirected” offers of assistance from the EU border agency Frontex.

There was no immediate reaction from Greek authorities to the report.

The rights groups argued that despite officials being alerted to the presence of children on board and informed that several passengers were “very sick,” survivors’ testimonies suggested the Greek patrol boat did nothing until it was too late.

Urging Greek authorities to prosecute officials in the event of sufficient evidence of wrongdoing, they claimed: “Survivors said that a coast guard patrol boat attached a rope to the Adriana [the trawler] and pulled, causing the boat to capsize. They also alleged that, after the boat capsized, the coast guard was slow to activate rescue operations, failed to maximise the number of people rescued and engaged in dangerous manoeuvres.”

Campaigners have since said the authorities’ handling of the incident was indicative of a pushback – aimed at forcibly evicting asylum seekers into neighbouring countries or, in this case, waters controlled by Italy.

Greece’s centre right government has repeatedly denied enforcing pushbacks to keep migrants and refugees at bay but it does admit to implementing ‘tough but fair’ migration management policies.

In a BBC interview last month, the Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis insisted it was the frontline country’s right to intercept boats saying: “We’re investigating this particular incident … at the same time, I’ve been very open and forthcoming that we feel we have a right to intercept boats at sea and at the same time encourage these boats to return to the coast from where they left.”

The ship’s crew had repeatedly rejected offers of help, he added. “They refused any assistance. They wanted to get to Italy. And at the end of the day we should hold the smugglers accountable, not the coast guard that is trying to do its job.”

More than half of the dead passengers retrieved in Greek waters have since been identified through DNA tests.

Over half of the 40 survivors who have taken legal action against the Greek state – accusing the Mitsotakis government of pursuing a deterrence policy based on the criminalisation of migrants – have yet to give testimony.

Nine Egyptian suspects accused of overseeing the smuggling operation and detained since their arrest in Kalamata have yet to go on trial.

The Hellenic coast guard declined to respond to the claims of the human rights groups citing judicial and non-judicial investigations.

For Lefteris Papagiannakis, director of the Greek Council for refugees, which represents most of the survivors now demanding an investigation into the tragedy, time is of the essence.

“Someone has to be held accountable, after all the shipwreck happened in Greece,” he told the Guardian. “Survivors, the families of victims, they all want justice. So many people perished. They are all lying at the bottom of the sea and the heart-breaking thing is that we will never know who they were, or how many there are.”

#Rights #groups #decry #Greek #investigation #migrant #shipwreck #left #dead #Greece

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