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The Greek coast guard is accused of the death of illegal immigrants

23 January 2014 / 18:01:14  GRReporter
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Only 16 people have survived the tragedy that occurred near Farmakonisi island. None of the other 12 illegal immigrants, women and children, who were in the boat with them, have been found. On Wednesday, two bodies had been discovered on the Turkish coasts, one of a woman and the other of a five-year-old child.

The surviving immigrants arrived at the port of Piraeus on Thursday morning after spending two days on the island of Leros. In statements to the media, some of them said that members of the Greek coast guard had tied their boat to the ship in order to return it back into Turkish waters.

The immigrants blame the coast guard for having tried to prevent them from boarding the ship. According to some of them, members of the service had pushed back the immigrants with their weapons while they were trying to reach the ship and throw life belts to the people in the water.

One man stated that he had lost his entire family, his wife and three children, and another his wife and four children aged one, four and eight.

A total of 28 people, 25 from Afghanistan and 3 Syrians, had been on board the fishing boat detected by the Greek coast guard on Sunday at midnight. According to sources from the service, the crew had immediately taken rescue actions accounting for the bad weather conditions. During the operation, many immigrants had gathered in one side of the boat, which had turned upside down and sunk.

In their statements before the representatives of the Greek branch of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the survivors of the tragedy said that the accident had happened while the coast guard ship that pulled the boat had been sailing at high speed towards the Turkish coast during a storm at sea. They also said that the immigrants had cried for help, as there were many children among them, but to no avail.

The coast guard service has rejected the accusations. According to its official announcement, the vessel had pulled the boat with immigrants on board towards Farmakonisi which is evidenced by the fact that the boat had sunk west of the place where the coast guard service had found it.

"The decision to pull the boat to the nearest Greek coast which is on Farmakonisi island was preferred as the most appropriate since their transfer to the ship would be risky due to the extremely bad weather conditions." According to the announcement of the coast guard, the sea winds were in the range of 5 and 6 on the Beaufort scale and the waves were 1.5 - 2 metres high.

Yesterday Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Nils Muiznieks said he was shocked and horrified by another tragedy near Farmakonisi. He described it as a failed attempt to return the immigrants to Turkey and urged the Greek government to keep its promise to discontinue this practice.

The international nongovernmental organisation Amnesty International has urged the Greek government to investigate the case whereas Minister of Shipping Miltiadis Varvitsiotis accused commissioner Muiznieks of trying to create political problems in Greece.

"It is not possible for all this to become the subject of stupid exploitation. I do not believe that anyone would want us to open the doors and give all immigrants asylum in Greece," he said, accusing the opposition SYRIZA party and the partner of New Democracy in the government coalition, PASOK, of attempting to reap political dividends from the tragedy.
This is not the first time that the Greek coast guard has been charged with attempting to bring illegal immigrants back to Turkey. Afghan Lomani also talks about such cases in an interview for GRReporter.

Tags: SocietyPoliticsIllegal immigrantsTragedyDrowned peopleFarmakonisiNils MuiznieksMiltiadis Varvitsiotis
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