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  • Writer's pictureRory O'Keeffe, Koraki

Mitarachis lies – again – about deaths in the Aegean

We are genuinely sorry to have to do this again so soon, but every time Greece’s Migration Minister lies about deaths in the Aegean, we feel somebody must correct him with the truth.

Greece’s Minister for Migration, Notis Mitarachis, has lied to the Greek public – again – about deaths off the Greek coast.

Mitarachis, speaking toRealFM (Greece), a radio station whose name seems ironic in the circumstances, said:

Heterogeneous interests are aligned with different goals but a common recommendation: To open #Ελλάδα its borders. The policy of guarding the borders has led to a steep drop in the loss of human lives in #Αιγαίο This year 10 people were lost while in '15, 800 and in '16, 450.

Now. One is not legally entitled to ‘guard the borders’ against people trying to apply for asylum. It should deeply concern everyone that the government’s response to people dying (which is of course not what the policy of ‘protecting borders’ is about, but let us pretend) is to break the law, rather than to ensure safe transport, which is those people’s right.

But Mitarachis’ numbers are simply incorrect. And he must know they are, having been corrected on this (by us, through Efimerida ton Syntakton) the last time he tried this. Which means he, or at the very least a person in his office, is deliberately lying to the Greek public.

Because Mitarachis has deliberately chosen the two years in which the refugee situation was at its absolute peak: men, women and children were fleeing Syria (and many other countries) in huge number, and were using their legal rights as human beings to travel to the EU.

In 2015, 856,723 people reached Greece. 799 died in the attempt. In 2016, 173,450 people reached the country, and 441 died. This means that 1,030,173 reached Greece, and 1,240 people died: that is, one in every 835 people who tried to reach Greece, died.

In 2020 and 2021, by comparison, years chosen solely because they are the first two full years in which Mitarachis and his government were in power, 14,450 people arrived in Greece. Certainly, a far lower number, and certainly in part because of Mitarachis’ and his government’s illegal and immoral acts against vulnerable men, women and children seeking safe places to live, learn and work.

In the same period, however, 217 people were killed. That is, one in 66.5 people who tried to reach Greece died. If Mitarachis wishes to take credit for this, he is welcome to: Mitarachis has death more than 12 times more regular on the Aegean Sea. It is a strange thing to boast about.

But what makes matters far worse is that, even if we ignore the Evros region (as Mitarachis does despite it, too, being part of his ‘guarded border’) where we know at least 82 or 83 people have died so far this year*: far more than the previous highest number on record, 59 in the whole of 2018 (the 82-83 people we note here died between 1 January and 31 August this year), Mitarachis’ claim about how many people have died – he says ‘10’ – is 11 times smaller than the actual number. That is, he has chosen a number that is incorrect by a factor larger than the number he made up.

Not only that. More people died – 11 – in the Eastern Aegean on Tuesday 13 September this year, as a direct result of a Greek Coastguard pushback, than he pretends have died in the whole year so far.

In actual fact, so far this year (to Wednesday 14 September 2022) 114 people have died in the Eastern Aegean. For those who are interested, this is actually 12 more people than died in all of 2020 (102) and only one fewer than died in the whole of 2021 (115). There are still three and a half months until the end of this year.

So in fact, what we are seeing here is a government minister of Greece, going onto a Greek radio show to:

  • lie to the Greek people about the number of people who have died in the Aegean this year (the number is more than 11 times higher than he says),

  • strongly imply that the ‘likelihood’ of death has decreased among those who make the journey (in fact the rate of deaths per person travelling is 12 times higher than he says) and

  • claim that his policy is working when in fact the number of deaths on the Aegean has increased every year since he introduced it, and so far this year is higher than three of the five full years since 2016.

It is almost impossible to imagine how he believes this is acceptable behaviour for a representative of the Greek people, even if we accept – as we must – that he does not care at all how many people have to die to keep foreign people out of Greece.

*Green MEP Erik Marquardt reports, during a meeting with Dr Pavlos Pavlidis, a coroner who works at Evros mainly to attempt to identify dead people who have crossed to Greece, and their cause of death, that ‘at least 51’ people have been killed at the border so far this year.

In fact, even though no-one keeps a regular update on numbers of deaths at the Evros border and/or caused by ‘guarded border policy’, we know from simple news reports that far more people have died, as many have not – because of the precise location of their death – passed through Dr Pavlidis’ hands.

These include the five-year-old Syrian girl Maria; two men and one or two boys who were part of the group she travelled with, killed by Greek police by drowning; a man who drowned while walking from Evros towards Thessaloniki; nineteen people who died after being stripped and pushed back to Türkiye; seven killed in police chases from the Evros border, and one killed by drowning in the Evros having been pushed back by the Greek police.

That is, even with just the deaths of which we are aware this year, 31-32 more people have died on the Evros border – 82-83 – than even Dr Pavlidis has seen.


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