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  • Writer's pictureRory O'Keeffe, Koraki

Pylos: an unfolding catastrophe in which 650 deaths are still largely ignored

We usually don’t do this publicly, but even as the circumstances are absolutely standard for Greece, the results on this occasion are unusual and unusually horrifying. What follows are a series of updates on the Pylos catastrophe of Wednesday 14 June 2023, in which ~650 people were killed. We need to repeat that: ~650 people were killed. Greek and other media are still ignoring the realities of this disaster.

What follows includes the Greek government’s efforts to shift blame from itself, a note on what pushbacks are actually designed to achieve, the Greek Coastguard’s part in the killing - including the fact they may well have actively killed all 650 men, women and children - and false claims about it, and the incontrovertible death of Greek journalism.

It is not enjoyable. We apologise and merely state that our job is to report reality.

If you have not already, we strongly recommend you read the piece here, regarding the catastrophe at Pylos, and then return here to read the following updates.

Arrests to mislead

Within hours of being rescued and arriving on land, six Egyptian men were arrested by Greek police for being ‘smugglers’ responsible for the Greek catastrophe at Pylos, in which around 650 people may have died. Three more were arrested later in the day.

First of all, a note: ‘smugglers’ almost never travel on the boats they sell spaces on.

Secondly, a second note: the Greek government has consistently accused people who have steered or mended boats crossing the Mediterranean of being criminals, specifically ‘smugglers’, in a clear demonstration of the fact that they would literally rather people die at sea than make it safely to use their legal and human rights to apply for safe places to live, learn and work.

They regularly sentence these ‘smugglers’, who are in fact simply people fleeing for safety along with every other person on the boats, and who have, in common with them, broken no laws, to hundreds of years in prison.

We do recognise, of course, that the situation in Egypt receives less publicity at present than that in Libya, or to an extent Tunisia, but as a reminder: Egypt has since 2014 been run by a military dictator Abdel Fattah al Sisi, who killed 1,000 people and maimed 4,000 on his ‘rise’ to power.

He jailed 19,000 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a party which whatever one thinks of its ideas, won the only free and fair election in Egypt’s history, and he killed the democratically-elected president of the country, Mohammed Morsi, by denying him insulin in prison.

Since then, he has jailed politicians, artists, journalists and others who disagree with him, as well as gay people simply for being gay.

There are – and we cannot stress this enough – a number of huge reasons why people might be fleeing Egypt and qualify for asylum elsewhere.

We must be very clear about this: the Greek police have arrested nine Egyptian men not because they are smugglers, or because there is any reason to believe they are, but because the Greek state, particularly the most recent party of government is, as we made clear, absolutely guilty (along with the governments of Italy, ‘authorities’ in Eastern Libya and the EU) of killing the 650 people who died in yesterday’s catastrophe, and is desperately seeking someone to blame.

These men are being used, their lives are being snatched from them as their fellow travellers’ have already been, to fit the narrative the EU and its two member states favour – the transparently untrue claim that ‘smugglers’ rather than they, are to blame for 650 people being killed in the Mediterranean yesterday.

We cannot allow this narrative to replace reality, and we cannot keep allowing the Greek government to reduce justice to a joke in this country.

These are men fleeing persecution, which is their human and legal right.

They have just survived a catastrophe at sea and have now been arrested by what can only be described as the gap in the air which remains when one sucks all moral and legal duty and respect from a nation-state.

The point of pushbacks

A group of 19 people are on Kos without food, shelter or assistance.

They have contacted Alarmphone, which has in turn contacted aid organisations and authorities but – and this is particularly relevant in the light of yesterday’s catastrophe – the organisation notes that ‘they fear they will be pushed back’.

Because that is the point of pushbacks: not just to prevent the entry of, or remove, new arrivals, but also to make people so scared that they might decide not to travel, or to risk their own lives in order to avoid contact with authorities.

Every time you read, see, hear about a group which has chosen to make the far more dangerous journey from Türkiye to Italy than that to Greece, about a group risking exposure or starvation rather than contacting authorities, or as in yesterday’s catastrophe, (according to the Greek Coastguard) turning down assistance at sea, remember: this is pushbacks in action. This is what they are for.

Pushbacks are designed to either risk people’s lives by preventing them from escaping terror, chaos, torture and death in their home countries, or actively kill them, by making sure they are too scared to seek or accept the help to which they are legally entitled.

Pushbacks kill. In more ways than one. That is what they are for.

The guilt of the Greek Coastguard?

MERA25 former MEP and MP Kriton Arsenis has suggested the Greek Coastguard may have been towing the vessel which capsized off Pylos, killing 650 people, when it sank.

The politician made the comments after interviews with survivors of the catastrophe, who he says told him their boat was being towed.

We should perhaps note that the Greek Coastguard was towing the boat at the centre of the Farmakonisi disaster, in which while attempting a pushback on 20 January 2014, the Coastguard caused the deaths of 11 of 27 people aboard a boat it should have been rescuing.

We must add that the sea was, according to all accounts, calm and flat at the time the boat capsized.

As we noted yesterday, the Greek Coastguard makes no mention of towing the boat in its version of events, but if it was doing so – presumably into Italian, rather than Libyan SAR waters – this would of course be a crime, while experts note that it would also be more likely to cause a capsizement than allowing the boat to continue as it wished to, or of course the actual rescue of the people aboard it.

That is, if this information is accurate – and there is no reason at this point to suggest that it is not – the Greek Coastguard would not only have failed to have rescued 650 people who died as a direct result, but in fact have, by carrying out an illegal act, directly have killed all 650 men, women and children.

We should note that if this is accurate, the Coastguard is acting on direct orders from the Greek government. No-one in power in Greece is not responsible for these deaths.

Stefanidou and the death of Greek journalism

The television presenter Tatiana Stefanidou, on the Tlive show on Alpha TV (Greece) has claimed that the people rescued from the capsized vessel off Pylos on Wednesday (14 June 2023) are a ‘burden’ to Greece, as they ‘took ambulances away from’ Greek citizens.

She said: ‘Because of refugees dying at Greek shores, all ambulances are occupied in Greek people may die because of that.

In a move which is sadly likely to earn her nods and agreement from part of a population utterly dehumanised by four years (plus many previously) of Nea Dimokratia government under which they are told foreign people endanger Greek lifestyles, Greek livelihoods and Greek lives, she deliberately connected a recent controversy (three Greek people died the weekend before last – Saturday 3-Sunday 4 June 2023 – as a result of too few ambulances being available to take them to hospital) with the ongoing demonisation of men, women and children fleeing war, chaos, terror, torture and death.

Of course our opinion on this is clear, but we feel we should note that even were this woman not deliberately sidestepping the fact that the Greek government bears direct responsibility for the deaths of 650 men, women and children this morning, and even if the 104 people who did survive had every legal right to travel to seek safety, and even were she not deliberately reducing these men, women and children to ‘less’ than Greek people – and she is doing all of that – the simple fact is that the reason three people died two weekends ago was not because refugees took the ambulances: they did not.

It’s because the Greek government has spent billions of euros employing police officers and buying weapons for the last four years, and has chosen to do so instead of investing in healthcare, including ambulances.

This is the precise kind of despicable, and ignorant in more than one way, behaviour which has become ‘mainstream’. In a country under a fascist dictatorship, this would be named (by those outside the state) for what it is: bigotry, racism and dehumanisation of the worst kind. Because it is Greece, it is not even seen as remarkable.

Frontex Pylos statement raises further questions

The EU border ‘agency’ Frontex has commented on yesterday’s catastrophe off Pylos, in which 650 people were killed with a statement which raises at least one significant question about the Greek Coastguard’s actions and its version of events.

As we noted yesterday, the Coastguard made a comment on what had happened in the 24 hours before the boat capsized while being ‘watched’ (and perhaps towed): ‘Initially, the fishing vessel was spotted at midday yesterday by a FRONTEX aerial vehicle.

As we noted, in fact the boat was ‘spotted’, and its GPOS coordinates shared with the Greek Coastguard by the activist Nawal Soufi at 9.35am that day.

But Frontexstatement today said: ‘Frontex surveillance aircraft detected the boat at 09.47 and immediately informed the competent authorities.’

This means that either the Greek Coastguard, which we have already ascertained was lying about the first moment it was informed (by Ms. Soufli) of the boat’s existence and whereabouts, is lying about Frontex’ activities, or Frontex is.

It is to be hoped, though we do not expect, that the Greek media will ask the Coastguard about its account, to get to the bottom of the serious contradictions, omissions and inaccuracies within it. Failing this, we may hope that the legal investigation into the catastrophe announced this morning, will ask such questions. Though given the abject standard of investigations into the Farmakonisi pushback, we hold out little hope of this either.

In yet more misleading ‘reaction’ to the catastrophe, the ‘reporter’ Aris Portosalte of SKAI (Greece) claimed that the people aboard the boat were given food and water by two cargo vessels, and ‘threw it into the sea’.

This is a lie.

First because Portosalte was not there and has no idea what happened.

Second, because it is part of the documented record of the catastrophe that the people aboard the vessel thanked both boats – and also AlarmPhone – for the food and water. It is deeply depressing to watch people claiming to be journalists telling lies to insult the memories of the dead.

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