Europe’s “shield”: Hundreds presumed to have drowned off Greece

Map: Google maps with added position by Alarm Phone. Correction: the position on the map is from 16:13 CEST on 13 June 2023 (not July).

Off the coast of Greece, a large fishing boat has capsized. We fear that hundreds of people have drowned. Yesterday, 13 June 2023, we had alerted the Hellenic Coast Guard at 16:53 CEST to this boat in distress, as the people had called us for help. The Greek authorities, reportedly also Italy and Malta, had already been alerted several hours earlier. Greek and other European authorities were thus well aware of this overcrowded and unseaworthy vessel. A rescue operation was not launched. In the early hours of today, 14 June 2023, the boat capsized.

Already in the hours following this disaster at sea, the Hellenic Coast Guard has begun to justify their failure to assist by arguing that the people in distress had not wanted to be rescued to Greece.

We ask: Why are people at sea so afraid to encounter Greek forces?

It is because people on the move know about the horrible and systematic pushback practices carried out by the Greek authorities, practices that are sanctioned by the EU. Greece has become “Europe’s shield”, as European Commision president von der Leyen once noted, violently deterring people on the move.

People on the move know that thousands have been shot at, beaten, and abandoned at sea by these Greek forces. They know that encountering the Hellenic Coast Guard, the Hellenic Police or the Hellenic Border Guards often means violence and suffering. It is due to systematic pushbacks that boats are trying to avoid Greece, navigating much longer routes, and risking lives at sea.

As Alarm Phone, we have documented innumerable cases of pushbacks and also of cases where overcrowded boats capsized because they took longer routes, trying to avoid Greek forces. One of the most recent examples is a boat that was in distress on 22 May 2023, south of Methoni and pushed back 524 km into Turkish waters. Some of the people from this case are still imprisoned in Turkey.

In addition, Alarm Phone has documented how the passengers of another large boat that had also left from Tobruk, Libya, were abducted from deep within the Maltese Search and Rescue zone and towed back to Libya on 23 May 2023, where they were imprisoned. People on the move know that they need to travel as far as they can to heighten their chances to avoid pushbacks or pushbacks by proxy.

After the fishing boat capsized, Greek authorities were quick to publicly justify their failure to rescue. The reality is that they had been alerted many hours before the vessel capsized and had been informed by different sources that this was a boat in distress. Reportedly, assets of the Hellenic Coast Guard and a Frontex aircraft were on scene. European authorities could have sent out adequate rescue resources without delay. They failed to do so because their desire to prevent arrivals was stronger than the need to rescue hundreds of lives.

Stop blaming people on the move for trying to escape your violence!
Stop blaming people on the move for their own death!
Stop pushbacks, end death at sea, tear down Europe’s borders!


Alarm Phone Timeline of the distress case – 13/14 June 2023

In the morning of 13 June, from 9:35h CEST, the Twitter user Nawal Soufi alerts about a large boat in distress, carrying, according to them, 750 people. Over the following hours, Nawal Soufi adds further information, including the GPS position of the boat in distress and that authorities in Italy, Greece, and Malta have been alerted.

14:17 CEST: Alarm Phone receives the first call from the boat in distress. It is difficult to communicate with the distressed. They say that they cannot survive the night, that they are in heavy distress. Alarm Phone tries to receive their current GPS coordinates in order to be able to alert authorities – but the call cuts. We try to reconnect with them.

14:30 CEST: The distressed call again, telling Alarm Phone that they would send their location. However, they do not.

15:52 CEST: The distressed called Alarm Phone twice but it was impossible to understand them.

16:04 CEST: We speak to the distressed again. They say that they would send their GPS position.

16:13 CEST: We receive the position from the people in distress: N 36 15, E 21 02. We try to gather further information but we cannot reconnect with them.

16:53 CEST: We alert the Greek authorities per email as well as other actors, including Frontex and UNHCR Greece.

The Email from Alarm Phone to the authorities and other actors

The email response from Frontex to the Alarm Phone

17:13 CEST: We reestablish contact to the people in distress. We hear “hello, hello”, then the call drops. We try to reconnect, which is not possible.

17:14 CEST: We receive a call from the boat in distress but cannot hear anything.

17:20 CEST: We speak to the distressed and they report that the boat is not moving. They say: “The captain left on a small boat. Please, any solution.” They say they need food and water.

17:34 CEST: We receive another call from the boat in distress and their updated position: N 36 18, E 21 04 – very close to the previous position. They say that the boat is overcrowded and that the boat is moving from side to side.

18:00 CEST: We call the company of the merchant vessel “Lucky Sailor”, informing them about the boat in distress. They say that they only act under the authority of the Greek coastguards.

Over the following hours, Alarm Phone tries to re-establish contact to the distressed but either calls are not connected or it is impossible to understand one another.

20:05 CEST: Alarm Phone is informed by the distressed that they received water from the merchant vessel Lucky Sailor and that they have been in contact with the “police”. Alarm Phone also notices that a second merchant vessel, the “Faithful Warrior”, is close to the distressed.

Over the following hours, Alarm Phone tries to reestablish contact to the distressed but either calls are not connected or it is impossible to understand one another.

00:46 CEST on 14/06/2023: Last contact to the boat in distress. All we hear is: “Hello my friend. …. The ship you send is …”. The call cuts.