Tragedy in the Aegean

Submitted by martin on 28 January, 2014 - 3:13

In the early hours of Monday 20 January a Greek coastguard patrol detected a small boat near then Greek island of Farmakonisi, in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey.


This is a longer version of the article than in the printed paper.

On board were 28 asylum seekers, 25 Afghans and 3 Syrians, including many women and children.

The survivors say that the coastguards attached a rope to their boat and towed it towards Turkish waters at high speed and in rough seas. The boat capsized.

The coastguards eventually picked up 16 survivors. Six people were found dead, amongst them a woman and a five year old child, and six others are missing.

As the boat capsized, so the survivors say, some of the asylum seekers tried to climb aboard the coastguard vessel, but were beaten and kicked to prevent them. One survivor, a father who lost his three children and his wife, says that he asked the coastguards to give him a life jacket to save his family and they ignored him.

The 16 survivors arrived in Athens on Thursday 23 January and were greeted by members of the "Deport Racism" movement and of the Social Network of Support for Refugees and Immigrants, representatives of UNHCR, and MPs from the left-wing party Syriza. The official Greek state offered no welcome.

Many asylum-seekers have died before this in the Aegean. The difference in this case is that people drowned when under the direct control of the coastguards, and that the coastguards' reported attempt to tow the boat into Turkish waters was illegal.

According to official data, at least 19,144 migrants have died between 1988 and the end of 2013 when trying to enter Europe. 14,309 died in the Mediterranean or the Atlantic, trying to reach Spain; and 1,504 in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey. During the years 2011-2013, the Greek coastguards carried out 550 seizures, identifying 11,741 would-be immigrants.

The Minister of Shipping has attacked the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner, Amnesty International, and Syriza as making "misguided, premature declarations".

The ministry and the pro-government media chorus have denied that coastguards were towing the boat towards Turkish waters, and claimed that the capsizing of the boat was due to the people on it all suddenly moving to one side.

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou has denounced Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras:

"Mr. Tsipras defames his country, aiming at the abolition of Frontex [the EU agency for monitoring the EU's external borders] and the massive entry of illegal immigrants."

The existence of fascist nuclei within the Greek state apparatus is common knowledge. In any case, these deaths are due to the inhuman logic of European and Greek immigration policy and the fortress Europe policy of closed borders.

Yet the Greek presidency of the EU has set the intensification of enforcement at the external borders as a top priority. "We will focus on measures relating to the prevention of illegal immigration, readmission and return, and building the institutional capacity for border management".

Syriza has demanded that the Shipping Minister immediately halt towing of boats with refugees towards the Turkish coast, and an independent investigation. Syriza spokesperson SYRIZA Panos Skourletis also called for the resignation of shipping minister Miltiades Varvitsiotis, and Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras called for the EU to "review the Dublin II agreement, which converts the countries of southern Europe in warehouses of souls and the Mediterranean into a watery grave".

We should not let ourselves become familiarised to the death of asylum-seekers! We should re-iterate the obvious: no-one’s life is disposable. The more dehumanised we become, the more we consider the plight of the Palestinians, the Syrians or the Afghans as not part of our plight, the easier it will be for the government and the EU/ECB/IMF Troika to impose new austerity measures and human rights abuses. We will all be drowned in the Aegean.

The working-class movement, the youth and the Left should fight for:

Punishment of the instigators and perpetrators of the crime in Farmakonisi

Resignation of the Minister of Shipping

Every effort to be made to find the bodies of the missing.

Unconditional asylum shelter for the survivors. They should be granted legal documents instead of the administrative deportation papers they have at present.

Dissolve Frontex. Stop the illegal and murderous practice of refugee persecution and "informal redirections".

Legalisation of all immigrants and full labour, political, and social rights

Shut down the migrant detention camps

A radical restructuring and democratisation of all security forces under the democratic control of the mass organisations of the working people

Unionisation and recruitment to left wing organisations of refugees and immigrants, and a united struggle for the overthrow of capitalism and the victory of socialism.

Demonstrations and rallies of protest and solidarity with the survivors of the wreck in Farmakonisi were held on Saturday 25 January at Syntagma Square, in Athens. The protests were called by: “Open school for immigrants”, “Antifascist coordination in Athens”, “Afghani community”, “Network for social support of refugees and migrants”, “Sunday school for immigrants”, the “Deport Racism" Movement, Syriza youth, ”Initiative against detention centres”, Greek refugee forum, and others./

A press conference with the survivors was held at Syntagma square. After the press conference, a five-member committee consisting of Syriza MPs and mother activists presented a demand for the immediate cessation of the persecution of immigrants.

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