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Greece shipwreck: Suspected people smugglers face court, as coastguard blamed

Campaigners tell MEE that European and Greek authorities bear responsibility for disaster, as accused people smugglers set for court appearance
An undated photo shows people onboard a boat during a rescue operation, before their boat capsized on the open sea, off Greece on 14 June 2023 (Reuters)
An undated photo shows people onboard a boat during a rescue operation, before their boat capsized on the open sea, off Greece on 14 June 2023 (Reuters)

Nine suspected people smugglers accused of piloting the fishing trawler that sank off the coast of Greece last week are expected to appear in a Greek court on Monday, as authorities in Athens face further criticism of their handling of the disaster.

Between 400 and 750 people are thought to have been onboard the vessel, which sank in one of the deepest parts of the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Pylos on 14 June. 

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said the disaster could be the second deadliest refugee and migrant shipwreck ever recorded, with more than 500 people, including at least 100 children, believed missing. 

Greek authorities said that 78 dead and 104 survivors - mostly from Syria, Afghanistan, Egypt and Pakistan - were brought ashore.

But survivors of the shipwreck have accused the Greek coastguard of ignoring their pleas for help, leading to the loss of many more lives. 

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Ayad, from Syria, told the Times that Greek authorities "just watched", and that they "could have saved many more people". The coastguard did not send help for at least three hours, according to five survivors of the wreck.  

The Greek coastguard maintains that the overcrowded fishing trawler was proceeding on its course to Italy and had refused help. 

But a BBC investigation has revealed that the vessel was not moving for at least seven hours before it capsized, and a host of NGOs say they received distress calls from the boat. 

'Cycle of dehumanisation'

The UN has called for an investigation into Greece's handling of the disaster, as campaigners said Greek and European authorities should be held responsible for the tragedy. 

“There are clear issues of obligations on the part of the Greek authorities that need to be fully and independently investigated, to determine responsibilities,” Efi Latsoudi, a Greek migrant-rights advocate with Refugee Support Aegean told Middle East Eye.

Greece shipwreck explained: The claims and counterclaims
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“The survivors have not received appropriate reception conditions and support,” she said. 

“This unspeakable tragedy was not just avoidable, it was recklessly caused by European policies that would gladly see refugees drown in the name of so-called deterrence that will never work, only continue to kill,” Zoe Gardner, a migration policy expert who has worked for many years in the field, including in Greece, told MEE.

“The cycle of dehumanisation of migrants in Europe has gone so far, it appears the Greek coastguard knew of the danger for hours without taking action. Every headline and government announcement demonising migrants is part of this cycle and we must end it urgently.”

The suspected people smugglers will appear in court in the Greek city of Kalamata. 

On Sunday, police in Pakistan-administered Kashmir said they had arrested 10 people allegedly involved in sending local youths to Libya for the onward journey to Europe. 

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