UPDATE: Shipwreck survivors are still imprisoned in Amygdaleza
Alarm Phone stayed in contact with several survivors of the four shipwrecks that took place around Christmas 2021. Instead of getting help to deal with their traumatic experience, most of them were detained in the Amygdaleza’s Pre-Removal Center. Among them many people who lost their loved ones, often children. While they are in prison, they have no possibility to search for or identify their loved ones. Until now, they have not received information on how long they will have to stay imprisoned or information on their asylum claims.
After arrival, they had to quarantine for 14 days. For most of them their quarantine ended on 11 January. At least two young men had to quarantine again as they were put in a cell together with a person who was later tested positive for Covid-19. Again, these two survivors are without access to medical treatment and only restricted access to lawyers.
Some of the families were released and brought to other camps on the Greek mainland.
Until now, the people imprisoned in Amygdaleza were not able to see a doctor and get medical help, even though some of them are severely sick. Medicine that was delivered by solidary people has not been handed out to them. With temperatures dropping under zero degrees in Greece, the survivors were not given clothes and warm supplies. When solidary people brought clothes, gloves and beanies for the survivors they were first not distributed. Now finally, people received the delivered clothes.
The search for the missing continues
Almost every day since the shipwrecks, bodies are washing ashore on the coasts of Naxos, Paros, Folegandros and other islands. Until now, a total of 28 bodies were recovered, among them three children – it seems that there were all victims of the shipwrecks off Folegandros and Paros.
Still, many more people remain missing. Almost a month has passed since the shipwrecks but many people are still desperately looking for information on the whereabouts of their friends and family. To be left in uncertainty is incredibly hurtful. They are left alone in their search by Greek authorities. The Greek Coast Guard and hospitals are not allowed to give out any information. The phone number of the press office of the ministry is available but only for journalists and NGOs. Instead of supporting family members in their search, collecting names of missing and survivors or installing a help hotline for relatives, the Greek authorities concentrate all their efforts on finding those “responsible for the shipwrecks” and accusing individuals for trafficking.
Five people criminalized for boat driving
At least five people are being accused as “boat drivers” for the four shipwreck of Christmas 2021. They are imprisoned and facing unimaginable charges. For the Paros shipwreck, three of the survivors were arrested. They are being charged with causing an accident at sea, intentional manslaughter and membership in a criminal organization – the charges are insane, they face 16 times life sentence. The accusations are in conflict with survivors’ testimonies, according to whom there was a sudden engine failure which caused panic and finally let the boat to capsize.
Release all imprisoned survivors!
Today marks roughly a month since these shipwrecks happened. Instead of support, survivors and relatives face hurdles, discrimination and imprisonment. Once more, this shows the cruel attack on the right and dignity of people on the move and migrant communities. Luckily, a dedicated cooperation of those affected, relatives, solidary groups on the ground and transnational networks effectively counteract this discrimination – by direct support, important exchange, legal efforts and more.
Again, we demand the immediate release of all imprisoned survivors, psychological and material support for all those who need it and an immediate stop of the criminal persecution of boat drivers.
Updated numbers of rescued, drowned and missing
During the follow-up work, we were able to clarify the numbers of the people on the different boats.
Folegandros shipwreck (AP914): According to some survivors, a total of 70 people were on board but only 12 people were rescued. Others reported between 30 and 50 passengers on the boat. One man lost his wife and two children in this shipwreck. He spoke about the horrible shipwreck with news 24/7. In this article, they report three dead bodies, 13 rescued and 30 missing people related to this boat. Other articles speak of up to 44 missing people. We will continue to collect names and information in order to clarify these numbers.
Mani shipwreck (AP922): According to survivors, all 92 passengers arrived safely on land.
Antikythera shipwreck (AP925): According to survivors, a total of 105 people were on board. At least 11 people lost their lives, most of them coming from Iraq.
Paros shipwreck (AP930): A total of 79 were on board. 63 people were rescued and 16 were reported dead.
Update: Free the survivors – support the relatives!
Instead of creating supportive infrastructure for survivors of the shipwrecks and relatives who look for their beloved, Greek authorities imprison the travellers and fail to help relatives in their search.
We are, up to now, in contact with survivors and relatives of all three shipwrecks. A fourth boat that ran aground in the area of Mani on the Peloponnese was also an Alarm Phone case: AP922. This was a boat with 92 travellers (all men, 54 of them are minors) who, fortunately, all survived. So in the whole, in the days around Christmas, there were four different boats on their way to Italy from Turkey that wrecked in the Greek Search and Rescue Zone. More than 30 dead bodies have been found and more people went missing. Many relatives from various countries, also in Europe, search for their beloved.
The survivors from three shipwrecks [the boat that ran aground on Mani (AP922), the boat that crashed on the rocky islet of Prasonisi, north of Antikythera (AP925), and the boat that sank off Paros (AP930)] have been transferred to Amigdaleza, a detention center near Athens. The traumatised survivors don’t have access to doctors nor psychologists. They did not have the possibility to change clothes or to take a shower and their most basic needs are not met. They are detained and cannot move freely. Regarding the survivors of the shipwreck near Folegandros (AP914), we do not know if they have been transferred from Santorini to the mainland or not. Most of the survivors do not seem to have access to their phones and thus, there is very limited possibility to be in touch with their families and friends.
The dead bodies are partly on Paros (AP930), on Santorini (AP914) and most probably somewhere at the mainland (AP925). So far, we did not manage to find out where relatives can get access to information about the missing persons or the procedures for identification. It is also not yet clear where the dead will be buried.
We are asking:
If it would have been a cruise ship carrying tourists that capsized, would you detain all survivors? Wouldn’t you give them first of all, every possible way to be in touch with their beloved? Wouldn’t you try to host them in a way that they can find the little bit of sleep they need? Wouldn’t you give them access to psychological care to deal with the traumatic experience?
If it would have been a cruise ship carrying tourists that capsized, would you let the people searching for their beloved run from one place to another without creating an emergency hotline to coordinate the search?
What is needed is immediate support according to the needs of all survivors. Each and every one needs to be freed immediately from detention! In addition, all dead persons need to be identified and buried in a dignified way. Relatives looking for their beloved need access to information and support in their search. In order to help relatives in their search, we put collected information in English and Arabic:
We will never forget!
We will continue our struggle until everybody has the right to freedom of movement!
So that noone will have to take the risk to travel on unseaworthy boats to reach safety and to reunite with their family members!
We could make this dark chapter of death along the European sea borders history.
Three shipwrecks with dozens feared dead in the Aegean while pushbacks continue to happen
Between 21 and 25 December 2021, the Alarm Phone has been alerted to three deadly shipwrecks in the Aegean. At the same time the Hellenic Coast Guard continues its violent pushback regime – we witnessed one boat being pushed back from Chios into Turkish waters on the day of Christmas eve, most probably not the only one in these days.
In the evening of 21 December 2021, the Alarm Phone was informed about a boat in distress in the Aegean Sea (AP914). A relative told us that there were around 60 people on board, that water was entering the boat and that the boat was sinking. We immediately informed the responsible authorities about the emergency near the small Greek island Folegandros. According to information received by the Hellenic Coast Guard, 13 people were rescued, one of them after surviving 24 hours in the water. Tragically and as mentioned in our report about this tragedy, this means that still an unknown number of people are missing. There was contradictory information about the total number of people who were initially on the boat, differing between 32 and 60. Three dead bodies were found, at least 17 people remain missing.
A day later, on the early evening of 23 December, relatives informed us about a group of people stranded on a small rocky islet near the Greek island Antikythera (AP925). At the time, media had already reported at least four dead passengers. Between 90 people were stuck on the islet and had to spend the night there. On 24 December, the Hellenic Coast Guard confirmed that 90 people were rescued off the islet – according to information at that time, 11 dead bodies were found. In a video of the rescue operation, one could see the rest of the sunken vessel. Equally visible on the video were orange life rafts to transport people from the islet to the vessel of the Hellenic Coast Guard. The same life rafts are usually used in brutal pushback operations that leave people adrift at sea – a practice used by the very same Hellenic Coast Guard. Up until now, it is reported that 90 people (among them 52 men, 11 women and 27 children) have been rescued. 11 people lost their lives.
While Europe was getting ready for Christmas Eve on 24 December, the next emergency call came in. A boat with 88 people was about to sink near the Greek island of Paros (AP930). The people reported that they were already in the water. Again we immediately informed the Hellenic Coast Guard and asked for rescue. They informed us that a rescue operation was under way. Also the Blue Star Ferry of the Attica Ferry company changed their course and went to the distress location – in total, nine boats were reported to be involved in the rescue operation. People had to be rescued out of the water. At around 23:00 CET, 58 people were rescued, while 6 dead bodies had been found. During 25 December, the death toll rose to 16. Again in this case, many relatives reached out to us, asking if their loved ones are among the survivors.
Until today, many questions remain open regarding all three shipwrecks: Was a rescue mission launched in time or was it delayed? Could these deaths have been prevented by a more immediate reaction of the responsible authorities? And why did the boat near Antikythera have to land on the small rocky islet and was not directly rescued?
Again, dozens of people have died on the Aegean route despite being close to shores. Such tragedies are the direct result of the violent pushback regime put into practice by the Greek government and in the name of the EU. All three ships that sank were on their way from Turkey to Italy. This very long and dangerous route is increasingly taken by more and more people. They often sail in boats, which they cannot properly steer, and get into serious distress. What is striking: while the Hellenic Coast Guard is always quickly on scene to violently push people back, they are much slower in case of distress. The combination of a brutal pushback and inhumane camp regime in Greece leads to many people choosing this longer route from Turkey to Italy.
We have witnessed one of these reasons in the early morning of 24 December. The Alarm Phone has been informed about a group that has been pushed back by the Hellenic Coast Guard near the Greek island of Chios (AP927). The people were picked up from the sea, shortly detained on Chios and then pushed back and left adrift in Turkish waters. When calling the Turkish Coast Guard in order to find out if the group had been rescued, they informed us that in the morning of 24 December alone, 8 groups have been “collected” in the Aegean sea and brought back to Turkey. This lets us assume another massive pushback operation by the Hellenic Coast Guard on the morning of Christmas Eve. While there were potentially not sufficient assets available to rescue people in severe distress in other regions, there were sufficient capacities to perform pushbacks at the same time.
It is very clear: During this journey, the Coast Guard is often not a potential rescue, but rather a danger to people on the move.
In addition, the Hellenic Coast Guard already mentioned “smugglers” being involved. This usually refers to their attempt to criminalise passengers for boat-driving. This is another practice used to conceal the real crimes in the Aegean: the pushback practices and the violent and deadly consequences of the European border regime at sea and on land.
For the moment, it is of utmost importance – especially for the authorities – to support relatives looking for their loved ones.
Only open and safe routes towards Europe will prevent such tragedies in future, which is why the Alarm Phone continues to struggle for safe passages and freedom of movement. Our thoughts are with the survivors and with the relatives and friends who mourn their beloved. We will never forget them.