Human rights groups on Thursday slammed a decision by a Greek prosecutor to shelve the investigation into the deaths of 11 immigrants who drowned during a controversial coast guard operation near the eastern Aegean islet of Farmakonisi in January.
Activists, joined by relatives of the victims – eight women and three children, all from Afghanistan – demanded a fresh probe into the case and vowed, if necessary, to seek justice at the European Court of Human Rights. The request was made during a press conference in Athens organized by the Greek Council for Refugees, the Hellenic League for Human Rights, the Network of Social Support to Refugees and Migrants (DIKTYO), and the Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Migrants and Refugees.
“We want the investigation to be reopened. The people who are responsible for the death of our loved ones must be brought to justice,” the families of the victims said in a joint statement.
Their lawyers say that investigators did not follow due process as they chose to overlook alleged contradictions in the depositions given by coast guard officials. Moreover, they say investigators based their probe on the original migrant testimonies, which were conducted on Leros island without the help of interpreters and in the presence of coast guard officials, instead of those given to UNHCR officials a day later in which they claimed that coast guard officers had badly mishandled the operation.
In a joint statement the four organizations said the decision by the Piraeus Maritime Court “practically approves of the pushbacks carried out in the Greek seas, perpetuates the impunity of the coast guard involved and shows a complete lack of will and effort to decrease the number of migrant deaths in Greece’s and Europe’s external borders.”
The small fishing boat crammed with 28 passengers entered Greek waters illegally from Turkey on January 20. The coast guard said it was towing the boat to Farmakonisi when it capsized and sank, causing 11 passengers to drown.
Survivors have claimed the boat was being towed at high speed back into Turkish waters. They said coast guard crew ignored their pleas to take the women and children on their boat before the accident, and then allegedly stood by as passengers struggled in rough seas. Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis and coast guard officials have rejected these accounts.
“We want the support of Greek and European communities in order to reopen the case. We want justice,” said Ehsanula Safi, an Afghan migrant who lost his wife and four children when the boat went under.