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  • Writer's pictureRory O'Keeffe, Koraki

Seven days from the Pylos catastrophe: lies, persecution and protest

As we have noted, we do not usually issue this publicly – though we run a service of daily and weekly updates on the Greek refugee response, Greek politics and society, Türkiye, the EU, Syria and international developments related to people movement, human rights and the law: contact us here for details – but the last seven days, following the Pylos catastrophe, seem to us important enough to make an exception for.

What follows are updates which note international legal and human rights actors' horror and criticism of the fact that 650 people were simply allowed to die (or were killed) in Greece's Search and Rescue Zone, the (last and likely next) Greek government casting blame, persecuting innocent people, lying about the law and attempting to avoid its responsibility for the catastrophe, the Greek Coastguard's version of events slowly disintegrating, and the EU's Commissioner for Home Affairs missing the point.

We will post some pieces on other topics in the next few days, but we should remember: this was Greece's worst maritime catastrophe, and the second worse on record for the entire Mediterranean Sea. And 650 men, women and children are dead. They must be remembered and we must make sure nothing similar ever happens again.

Friday 16 June 2023

1) Greek police teargas Athens Pylos demonstrators

In yet another demonstration of their violence, overreaction and unreasonable aggression towards people using their democratic right to protest, the Greek police have teargassed people marching peacefully to protest the killing of around 650 people off Pylos on Wednesday.

As we have noted, the people were killed under exceptionally strange circumstances, and the Greek Coastguard has a huge number of questions to answer.

Even if its original statements on the matter were true – and this seems questionable – the catastrophe was the direct result of the Greek and Italian governments, the Eastern Libyan ‘authorities’ and the EU’s policies designed to deny people their right to travel to seek asylum.

In any case, these people were entitled to demonstrate, did so peacefully, and as in so many other cases were teargassed by a police force which is supposed to protect them.

Once it fails to do so, we have to ask what it is here for.

The Greek police are out of control. At this moment, we happen to have a far-Right wing government with which the police agrees. But as we have noted before, this government is creating a future catastrophe.

2) Johansson appears to miss point

The EU Commissioner for Home affairs, Ylva Johansson, has made a comment on the Pylos catastrophe which, while not entirely incorrect, appears to absolutely miss the point.

As we noted, very close to 650 men, women and children were killed last Wednesday (14 June 2023) when a boat capsized 47 nautical miles south-west of Pylos.

Arguments are now raging regarding whether the Greek Coastguard caused the catastrophe, or just sat back and watched it happen (this is literally what the two sides in the debate are, as if ‘we sat back and watched it happen, allowing hundreds of people to drown’ would be in any way an acceptable position for a Coastguard or any human being) but while this is important, and will be dealt with elsewhere, in the end it makes little difference, because either option is unacceptable and the direct result of the Greek government’s policy of using pushbacks and the denial of human rights as their primary response to new arrivals to Greece.

The responsibility for the deaths lies squarely on the shoulders of the Greek government – which if the claim of the Greek Coastguard is to be believed and the people aboard the boat ‘refused the help’ of the Coastguard is the reason (because of the violent and illegal pushbacks which constitute its main policy) they failed to rescue anyone before the boat sank, and if it is not, the Coastguard actually caused the catastrophe by pulling the boat towards the Italian Search and Rescue Zone – and the fascist coalition government of Italy which has in recent weeks leant on Libyan 'authorities' to try to ‘encourage’ them to break international law by preventing people travelling to seek safety.

Also responsible are the ‘Eastern Libyan authorities’ – which have agreed to carry out the fascist coalition’s demands, including by early last week forcibly deporting 4,000 men, women and children to Egypt.

It is no coincidence that the boat which sank last Wednesday set out from Tobruk, the stronghold of the ‘Eastern Libyan’ political structure – and the EU, which has backed with public statements and cash both the Greek administration responsible for carrying out thousands of pushbacks since 1 March 2020, and the Italian fascist coalition pushing north African states to break the law to prevent people from reaching the EU.

In this context, Johansson said:

(The people aboard the boat) have not been sent to the EU, they have been sent to death.

I have no indications that member states have not done enough (to prevent these deaths).

Smugglers have found a new way to operate by flying in migrants to Benghazi, the largest city in Eastern Libya, before putting them on overcrowded fishing boats.

I think we should explore the possibility to reach out also to the airline companies and see what can be done together with them.

It is vital to prevent other migrants from taking that route, and to open other legal avenues for migrants to reach the EU.

Every time you see this happen, of course it hurts your heart.

My first priority is always to save lives.

Now. We shall be as fair as possible. In her career with the EU to date, Ylva Johansson has been far from the worst person in a position of authority, including those I more powerful positions than her own.

She generally appears to mean well, and to genuinely want to make a positive difference.

But whether forced into statements like this by her colleagues (including EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and walking conflict of interest, EU Commission Vice-president for Defending our European Way of Life, Greek and Nea Dimokratia member Margaritis Schinas).

It really is possible that Ylva Johansson’s ‘first priority’ is to save lives, while this is certainly not the case for von der Leyen or Schinas, and neither of them say it is.

And she is correct that the 650 people who died on Wednesday were sent to their deaths.

But it is impossible to say that she has ‘no indications’ that member states have not done enough to prevent those people’s deaths, because those people absolutely could have been rescued and were not.

If one accepts the claim of the Greek Coastguard, the Greek government caused the deaths, because it has made Greece such a barbaric outpost of all the worst components of human existence that people would rather risk death at sea than be taken in and – in their view and in the statistical reality – almost certainly be beaten, have their possessions stolen, and be forced into Türkiye. In this version of events: that favoured by the Greek Coastguard; the Coastguard and did nothing while the boat capsized and 650 people drowned.

If one does not accept the Coastguard’s version of events, and instead listens to testimony from the survivors, it is clear that it was – on the orders of the Greek government – illegally towing the boat to Italian waters, which capsized the boat directly.

In any of these cases, it is clear that member states are directly responsible for the killing of 650 men, women and children and if we are serious about believing this is a bad thing, we do not get anywhere by pretending it is not clear.

It is equally impossible to pretend not to see the Italian fascist coalition’s fingerprints on the catastrophe. It was the one pressuring the ‘Eastern Libyan authorities’ to break the law to prevent people leaving Libya for the EU.

In both of these instances, it is clear that EU member states absolutely did not do enough to prevent these deaths. It is pointless to pretend that they did.

She then talks about ‘smugglers’ and a ‘possible route’ being used: flying people into Benghazi and then sending them from there to the EU.

Now again, we will be as fair as possible. Johansson does talk about setting up safe routes by which people can travel (something, again, Schinas and von der Leyen never even talk about), but seemingly only as an afterthought: whether deliberately or otherwise, Johansson makes it seem clear that she (and the EU she speaks for) thinks the problem is that people are finding ways to enter the EU and must be stopped, and only as a secondary consideration that we might do something other than (illegally, immorally and unacceptably) ‘stop them from coming’.

And we must accept that Johansson is sincere when she says these deaths have ‘hurt her heart’. Of the three people in positions of power regarding EU policy on immigration, she is by far the most human and humane in her attitudes (at least based on her comments) and it should and does hurt us all when a catastrophe like this takes place.

But in that case, we must not – as she has done here – steadfastly demand that we can ‘solve the problem’ by targeting smugglers.

Because smugglers are not ‘the problem’: they are the sole beneficiaries of the problem, which is EU and its member states’ illegal policies and activities.

Johansson must know this. And if she does, she must know that to stop smugglers, and prevent many many more deaths, the sole solution is to run reliable, affordable transport, on safe routes, for all who wish to use it. And to stop backing fascists pushing poorer nations to break the law for them, and Greece’s far-Right band of bigots masquerading as a government's barbaric pushbacks policy.

Literally anything else will line – is already lining – the pockets of the smugglers she is paid to publicly-blame. More importantly, any other course of action will kill thousands more people in the Mediterranean.

3) Tsipras (finally) talks sense about refugees

Alexis Tsipras, the leader of SYRIZA, has travelled to Kalamata, to visit 100 of the 104 survivors of the Pylos catastrophe (the other four are in hospital).

He is, to the best of our knowledge, the sole leader of a Greek political party to have done so.

Tsipras is far from the ‘Left-wing firebrand’ some in Europe claim to believe he is, and his abject performance in the Greek general election campaign played at least as large a part in SYRIZA’s collapse in that election as the fact that the party has almost no-one one could seriously describe as a ‘political talent’ (this is clear because one could say the same about Nea Dimokratia, a party whose collective charisma, political nous, and ingenuity could be held in a matchbox. Not an empty matchbox, either. Yet it maintained an almost identical vote-share from 2019 to today).

And that campaign was one of the worst in living memory (it had a great deal in common with the UK Labour Party’s 2015 general election campaign), not least because the party seemed to wish to pretend it would be as awful as Nea Dimokratia on most issues, when large parts of the country were screaming for an alternative.

But he deserves some credit, if nothing else, for being the only Greek politician with the courage to meet and talk with the survivors of the worst maritime catastrophe in Greek history.

And he deserves some credit for – at last – saying something worthwhile, memorable, and sensible, about refugees and Greece and the wider EU’s despicable behaviour towards them.

Having apparently told EU Commissioner for Home affairs Ylva Johansson that it was ‘a shame for Europe to have the Mediterranean Sea littered with corpses.’, he told EurActive(Belgium):

It is the utmost hypocrisy to count hundreds of dead men, women and children at the bottom of the Mediterranean and for some in Brussels, Athens, Budapest or Berlin to consider international law a ‘luxury’ or ‘obsolete’ and tell us that all we have to discuss is how many euros will be given to countries to host refugees there.

(the Pylos catastrophe) demonstrates in the clearest way the failure not only of Greece but of the entire EU to promote a structured refugee/migration policy that puts saving human life as the first priority.

‘Debates on an EU agreement on migration and asylum must radically change direction and focus on ensuring legal and safe routes, resettling refugees from third countries to EU member states in a fair way.’ (we will post on this in the next few days)

He continued: ‘The more we strengthen legal, safe routes and the more we upgrade the EU’s role and our cooperation on migration with non-EU Mediterranean countries, the weaker will be the networks of smugglers and the illegal and dangerous routes they create.

Unfortunately, the value of life is not the same today for all people. To the question ‘how much is a human life worth?’ the answer is ‘(it depends on) the origin, the colour, the financial ability.

We have chosen a side: With the human being, without conditions. And as reality becomes harsher, our stubbornness to defend equality, justice and humanity grows.

As we have made extremely clear both here and in the past, Tsipras is no hero. He is not even a particularly gifted politician (though in that he is similar to almost every member of the last Greek parliament).

But he is correct about most of what he says here.

It is probably too late for SYRIZA now (though the second election, on Sunday {25 June}, has not yet been held) but choosing a side, with human beings, without conditions, is precisely what we need from people in power.

It is a shame it took Tsipras so long to say it.

4) UN, IOM, hammer Greece, EU, over Pylos catastrophe

The UN and IOM have strongly criticised the EU and Greece for their parts in the Pylos catastrophe in which around 650 people died on Wednesday (14 June 2023).

They have called for immediate action, stressing that ‘every year, the Mediterranean is the world’s most dangerous migration route’ – a fact certainly caused by Greece and the EU’s open hostility to people using their legal and human right to travel to seek safe places to live, learn and work.

It is likely to be increasingly important in the next few days to consider what they say in their joint statement:

The boat was reportedly in distress since the morning of 13 June. A large-scale search and rescue operation was announced by the Hellenic Coast Guard on the morning of 14 June, after the boat capsized.

The duty to rescue people in distress at sea without delay is a fundamental rule of international maritime law. Both shipmasters and States have an obligation to render assistance to those in distress at sea regardless of their nationality, status or the circumstances in which they are found, including on unseaworthy vessels, and irrespective of the intentions of those onboard.

Any action carried out with regard to search and rescue should be conducted in a manner consistent with the obligation to prevent loss of life at sea.

Gillian Triggs, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, said:

'The EU must put safety and solidarity at the heart of its action in the Mediterranean. In view of the increased movements of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean, collective efforts, including greater coordination between all Mediterranean States, solidarity, and responsibility-sharing, as reflected in the EU’s Pact on Migration and Asylum are essential to save lives. This includes the establishment of an agreed regional disembarkation and redistribution mechanism for people who arrive by sea, which we continue to advocate for.'

Federico Soda, IOM Director for the Department of Emergencies said:

'It is clear that the current approach to the Mediterranean is unworkable. Year after year, it continues to be the most dangerous migration route in the world, with the highest fatality rate. States need to come together and address the gaps in proactive search and rescue, quick disembarkation, and safe regular pathways. These collective efforts should have the human rights of migrants and saving lives at the centre of any response.'

The sole problem is that the UN simply does not have the power to act against nation states, let alone entire political blocs, in order to enforce the law.

The reality is that despite its claims to be the 'home of civilisation', Greece is at present the literal law-breaking barbarian at the gates, and despite its pretence to stand for the promotion and protection of human rights and international law, the EU is systematically destroying both concepts.

And there is really nobody at present prepared to act to stop them.

Sunday 18 June 2023

1) Protestors hang 'Migrants' Cemetery' banner at Thessaloniki port

Protestors have hung two banners at Thessaloniki's port, to mark their sadness and anger at the death of 650 people off the coast of Pylos last Wednesday (14 June 2023)

The disaster, caused by the Greek and Italian governments, as well as the EU and Eastern Libyan 'authorities', is the worst in Greek maritime history.

The banners, one of which read: 'Tourists enjoy your cruise in Europe's biggest migrants' cemetery', were removed by this afternoon.

Monday 19 June 2023

1) Coastguard alters story regarding Pylos catastrophe

The Greek Coastguard has for the first time admitted its vessel did, in fact, attach itself to the boat which sank off Pylos, killing around 650 people, on Wednesday (14 June 2023), the worst maritime disaster in all of Greek – and the second worst in Mediterranean – history.

Several witnesses have said that the Coastguard attempted to pull the boat, and this caused it to capsize, a claim the Greek Coastguard had so far denied, saying it had not approached the vessel closely enough to have tied ropes to it.

But yesterday (Sunday 18 June 2023) the Coastguard's spokesman Nikos Alexiou, said:

'When the boat capsized, we were not even next to it. How could we be towing it?

'Our patrol boat only used a small rope to stabilize itself while it was close to the migrant boat hours before it sank, and the patrol boat would have been unable to tow the fishing boat.

'Regretfully there was movement of people, a shift in weight probably caused by panic and the boat capsized. As soon as we got there, we started our rescue operation to collect those who were in the water.'

Though of course this includes a denial that the Coastguard towed the boat, it is a significant change from 'no ropes were thrown', which had been the 'service' 's previous position. The comment also seems to indicate that the Coastguard had been close enough to help, and then deliberately withdrew from the boat, indicating some responsibility for the ~650 deaths.

As we have previously noted, the issue of whether the Coastguard directly caused the catastrophe, while vital in one sense, is not in fact particularly important when considering who was responsible for it.

Because if, as witnesses say it did, the Coastguard pulled the boat, it killed 650 people while attempting to illegally pull them from waters over which the Greek state has responsibility.

If it did not, and its story – that it offered help and that was rejected – is true, the sole reason for such a rejection would be the fact that since 1 March 2020, the Greek government has made the beating, robbery from, and in many cases sexual assault of, new arrivals, followed by their removal from Greece, its main policy regarding new arrivals to the state. And the Coastguard, according to this account, sat and watched the boat for several hours, until it capsized, when it rescued just 104 of 750 people.

In both cases, the Greek state is responsible for the deaths of 650 men, women and children. As is, as we have noted, the Italian fascist coalition for pressuring the Libyan 'authorities' to prevent people leaving Libya for the EU, the Libyan 'authorities' for responding by forcing 4,000 people into Egypt, and the EU for refusing people safe routes to travel to use their right to apply for asylum.

The Pakistani senate chairman Muhhamad Sadiq Sanjrani, reported that more than 300 of those killed were Pakistani nationals.

Among reasons why Pakistani people may have been fleeing the state are continued natural catastrophes, as well as an inflation rate so high many people cannot now afford to eat, and the failure of the government to secure enough food meaning many have gone without, while others have been crushed to death in stampedes at distribution points.

2) Pakistan police arrest 14 'people traffickers'

The Pakistani government appears to have reacted to the fact that more than 300 people died aboard the boat capsized in the Pylos catastrophe by arresting 14 people on suspicion of being 'people traffickers'.

Unlike its Greek counterpart following arrests of a similar kind, the Pakistani police has at least made some effort to explain why they are using the term 'trafficker' rather than 'smuggler', though its description of their activity – luring, trapping and sending locals abroad after extracting huge amounts of money from them – could, if put another way: contacting, hiding from authorities and helping people leave Pakistan for a price, be a description of people smuggling.

A total of around 650 men, women and children were killed in the Pylos catastrophe, the worst maritime disaster in Greek and second-worst in Mediterranean history.

3) Tracking data casts further doubt on Greek Coastguard's Pylos claims

Tracking data from Wednesday 14 June 2023 appears to counter Greek Coastguard claims about a boat which capsized off Pylos on that date, killing 650 people.

As we have noted, the Coastguard has claimed that it was not responsible for the worst maritime disaster in Greek and second-worst in Mediterranean history, (which is under no circumstances the case: either the Coastguard sank the vessel while attempting an illegal push-forward to Italy, or it and the Greek government's vicious, brutal, illegal and despicable policy of beating, stealing from, in some cases sexually assaulting, and then illegally pushing back new arrivals, led the people aboard the vessel to refuse 'help' from the 'service', and then the Coastguard watched as the boat capsized) as well as that its offer of assistance was turned down by those aboard.

The Coastguard has also claimed that the boat was under no stress or difficulty when it first made contact with it (several hours after the distress call was first sent by the vessel) and kept a 'steady course and speed' between 10.40pm on Tuesday 13 June, and 11.30am, when it sank.

But data seen by the BBC (UK) and maritime experts tells a very different story, that the vessel was in fact effectively still for seven hours before sinking.

This data does not feature the boat which sank, or the coastguard vessel, but does show a civilian vessel, the Lucky Sailor travelling to where the boat was at 3pm, some 35 minutes before the Coastguard arrived (six hours after the first distress call had been sent) to deliver food and water.

Later that day, a second civilian vessel, Faithful Warrior, whose crew confirm they also travelled to give the people aboard food and water, travelled to precisely the same spot to do so: the boat had not moved.

And the BBC reports that the Mayan Queen, the civilian vessel which took most of the 104 survivors ashore at around 1.30am, did so at a point only a few nautical miles from that where all other activity related to the boat was taking place – completely in keeping with the drifting of a boat without an engine.

This data appears to show that at best the Greek Coastguard approached and then simply sat and watched a stricken vessel drifting in the sea, before watching it capsize, killing 650 men, women and children. It also seems to show that the Coastguard has openly lied about the events which led to this catastrophe.

We should also note that a Greek government spokesman has claimed that a second rope (the Coastguard had originally claimed zero ropes had been attached by it to the boat, contradicting survivors who have argued that the boat was being towed by the Coastguard when it capsized) was attached to the boat, but was 'removed by those aboard who did not want help'.

Once again, we should note that these 'inconsistencies' are not from traumatised survivors of the catastrophe, but the official Greek state maritime rescue service. We should also note that the Coastguard's claim is that a vessel sent out distress messages, and six hours later refused help and was travelling absolutely normally.

It is now not just logic and commonsense which points to that claim's falsehood.

News24/7 (Greece) reported the boat had been stationary for 11 hours before sinking.

4) Mitarachis lies about the law

Nor was Kiriakos Mitsotakis alone* in lying to the Greek public about the avoidable deaths of 650 men, women and children off the Greek coast.

*we recommend you visit this article before continuing.

Greece's former and likely next migration minister Notis Mitarachis also stepped up, to lie about international law on the sea.

He said to ERT (Greece):

'According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the coast guard has the right to stop a vessel, to check it for illegal activity, within territorial waters.

'The territorial waters of Greece at that point are 12 nautical miles. Under certain conditions there can be an additional 12-mile zone, the border zone, which does not exist in the Ionian Sea, and bring the jurisdiction of the coast guard to 24 miles. In any case, we are talking here about 49 miles off the coastline of Greece. There the coast guard has no right to intervene in international waters.'

First of all, the catastrophe the worst in Greek history, took place 47, not 49, miles from the Greek coast.

But far more importantly, as Mitarachis knows perfectly well, the vessel was in the Greek Search and Rescue Zone, which clearly means the Greek Coastguard can search and rescue within it. To claim otherwise is a ludicrous lie, and it is genuinely astonishing that Mitarachis holds the Greek public in enough contempt to have told it.

Equally, the Law of the Sea notes that it is the duty of any vessel, belonging to or flagged by any nation, to rescue anyone at distress at sea, regardless of their location. This even extends to the fact that a state vessel may enter another state's waters, in order to carry out a rescue. But that was not necessary here. Even had the boat not been in Greece's Search and Rescue Zone – and it absolutely was, as Mitarachis well knows – anyone is entitled to carry out a rescue in international waters as Mitarachis well knows.

We are sorry to have to point this out in such un-cushioned language, but Notis Mitarachis is a liar.

5) Coastguard ordered oil tanker away from vessel

In his account of the events of Tuesday 13-Wednesday 14 June 2023, specifically in the lead-up to Greece's worst ever and the Mediterranean's second worst maritime catastrophe on Wednesday 14 June 2023 when a boat sank 47 nautical miles off Pylos, and 650 people died, the captain of an oil-tanker on-scene notes that he specifically warned the Coastguard of the risk of the boat capsizing, but was ordered away from it.

The Fearless Warrior had been ordered to assist the people aboard the vessel, and provided food and water.

It arrived at around 9pm on Tuesday 13 June.

The ship's captain notes that he 'warned the Coast Guard that the vessel was rocking dangerously' because of the number of people aboard, but that despite this, the Coast Guard vessel approached the boat at speed, and came dangerously close to it.

He was then ordered to move the ship five nautical miles west of the boat's position, leaving the boat and the Coast Guard vessel next to one another. Both remained still until 12.18am, at which point the oil tanker was ordered by the Coast Guard to leave the area.

It is impossible to be sure what happened in the two and a half hours in which the Fearless Warrior sat five miles west, and indeed after it left, not least because so many gaping holes remain in what the Coastguard claims is what actually happened.

6) Egyptian men plead not guilty to trafficking

The nine men despicably arrested just hours after surviving a capsizement in which 650 men, women and children died – the worst maritime disaster in Greek, and the second-worst in Mediterranean, history – have pleaded not guilty to negligent manslaughter, exposing lives to danger, causing a shipwreck and human trafficking.

This is because they are not guilty. Not least because no trafficking took place in this catastrophe, but also because smugglers do not travel on the boats on which they sell places, and because 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.

As we noted (section 'Arrests to Mislead') there are many reasons why people may need to flee Egypt, a country whose military dictator Abdel Fattah al Sisi has jailed political opponents and gay people alike.

As we also noted: ' These nine 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.'

They will return to court tomorrow (Tuesday 20 June 2023) to discover whether they must remain in jail until their trial.

Tuesday 20 June 2023

1) Five Pylos survivors describe boat being towed by Coastguard

Five people who survived the Pylos catastrophe, in which 650 people were killed when their boat capsized off south-western Greece on Wednesday 14 June 2023 have said it was being towed by the Greek Coastguard, and this was what caused it to overturn.

Nine people have so far shared their experiences and perspectives with the deputy investigator of the first investigative department of Kalamata. The four who do not say the boat was towed say that they were too far away to know whether it was.

The Greek Coastguard has already denied towing the boat, despite several significant gaps in its version of events. It claims that these most recent testimonies are different from those given to the Coastguard. Though this in itself is not necessarily even remarkable, as of course one might feel less comfortable explaining that the Coastguard sank the vessel if one is talking to the Coastguard.

Wednesday 21 June 2023

1) Mary Lawlor hammers Greece, other EU states for 'choosing' people's deaths on the Mediterranean

The UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, has responded to the worst maritime catastrophe in Greek history, in which 650 men, women and children were – at best – left to die by the Greek Coastguard, by pointing out the despicable and illegal activity of Greece and other EU member states towards both people moving, and those who work with them.

Ms Lawlor said:

'It is clear that this tragedy could have been avoided. The Greek authorities were alerted to the boat’s distress by the activist group Alarm Phone hours before it capsized. The Hellenic Coastguard was in contact with the passengers on board and had an obligation under international law to intervene, given the clear overcrowding and unseaworthiness of the ship.

'It is clear that the disaster was a product of political decisions. While Greece and the European Union, including through Frontex, its border and coastguard agency, have placed the blame for the catastrophe on people-smugglers, they are not the reason people choose to embark on extremely dangerous routes in the hope of reaching the EU. So long as there are no safe, legal and accessible routes for people to take when fleeing conflict and the effects of climate change, or seeking to reunite with loved ones or to search for a better life, there will be a business for smugglers. Only states can open these routes. They choose not to do so.

'It is clear that the EU and its member states are prepared to accept the deaths of people at Europe’s borders. This is not the first shipwreck at the edge of the EU—far from it. In October 2013, at least 400 people died when two ships sank off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy. In response, the then president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, said that ‘we believe that the European Union cannot accept that thousands of people die at its borders’. The Italian government launched Mare Nostrum, a search-and-rescue operation which rescued more than 150,000 people but was ended after only a year. Since then, more than 24,000 people have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean, 18,380 along its central route.

'During that time, EU search-and-rescue capacity has been reduced and solidarity, including through civilian search and rescue, repressed. While so-called smugglers are prosecuted, there is no accountability for these mass human-rights violations. These are not accidents. Alongside systematic pushbacks, they are crimes committed with impunity.

'Across the EU and at its borders, human-rights defenders who refuse to accept this situation have for years been taking action in solidarity with migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers. Their work saves lives and protects human dignity, yet it is being repressed, undermined and obstructed by states, while they themselves are criminalised, smeared and threatened.

'Yet the EU is founded on respect for human dignity and human rights. Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union states that here ‘pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail’. All member states are bound by the European Convention on Human Rights. They are obliged to respect the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which protects inter alia the right to seek asylum. They are all signatories to the major conventions of international human-rights law.

'Human-rights defenders across the union are insisting on the obligations that flow from these agreements, and they have a right to do so—to ensure that human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled where they are routinely and callously violated and ignored.

'Violations of the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers are taking place on a scale which, as the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatović, said yesterday, is now ‘so frequent that they hardly register in the public consciousness’.

'At least some EU states appear comfortable with this, and the silencing and smearing of human-rights defenders has become a tactic to ensure things don’t change.'

Thursday 22 June 2023

1) Notis Mitarachis stretches bounds of reality, basic commonsense, in latest Pylos outburst

Notis Mitarachis, the former and sadly likely next Greek minister of migration has made more astonishing claims and comments regarding the Pylos catastrophe, in which ~650 men, women and children were killed off south-western Greece last Wednesday (14 June 2023).

The incident was Greece's worst ever maritime disaster, and the second-worst ever recorded in the entire Mediterranean, and significant questions remain over the conduct of the Greek Coastguard which – if it did not (as it claims not to have done) cause the boat the people were on to capsize – at the very best appears to have sat alongside the boat for several hours, watched it capsize and then saved just 104 of the 750 people aboard, allowing around 650 people to die.

Mitarachis has spent most of the last eight days lying about the law, pretending the Greek Coastguard was not allowed to intervene because the boat was in international waters.

In fact, it was in the Greek Search and Rescue Zone, and even had it not been, it is the legal duty of any ship capable of carrying out a rescue, to rescue people at sea regardless of their location. As Mitarachis well knows.

Mitarachis was interviewed yesterday on 'Chios Transparency' (he was an MP for Chios), and among a series of other lies (including claiming that Nea Dimokratia 'solved' the 'migration problem' without mentioning pushbacks and concentration camps), he said:

'Those who protect Human rights are a powerful lobby in the EU that any opposing voice trying to slander anything will be systematically attacked by specific means, from specific organisations, from specific parties in the European Parliament.

'We hear about stabbings. For two Coast Guardsmen to go on board and force the captain to receive help, you realise that this is something that could have put many lives in danger, and Greek lives.' (his stress).

We really need to start by noting that 'human rights' is not the point at issue here.

Although human rights exist, and should be protected, there are specific laws which safeguard people seeking safety, including the Refugee Convention and Protocols, which set into law that people may enter the country of their choice to request asylum, and the Law of the Sea, which makes it clear that it is the legal duty of anyone at sea to rescue people in distress.

What Mitarachis says about 'human rights', therefore, is irrelevant. What critics of him, his party and its policies are pointing out is that they are breaking the law.

Even were we to set that simple and clear fact aside, however, human rights do exist, and Greece, like almost every other state on Earth, is a signatory to those rights (as well as to the aforementioned international laws) and has pledged to uphold them. 'Lobby groups' in the EU are at the absolute worst attempting to encourage Greece to abide by the law and follow the absolute bare minimum of the rules it has signed up to.

We must also point out that these laws and rights exist to protect people – every person – from death. That is, the Law of the Sea says that people must be rescued if they are in distress at sea so they do not die and people must be allowed to travel to seek safety so they can avoid being persecuted, tortured, and killed.

Mitarachis here appears to be pretending to be some kind of 'freedom fighter' against 'powerful lobbyists', but the EU and the Greek government, the two bodies which have literally all the power in this situation, have spent several years stripping people of their rights and in many cases – including these 650 men, women and children – killing them. That is where the power is: with those – Mitarachis included – attacking laws designed to protect people, hurting and killing those people in the process.

And in any case, what precisely is the 'freedom' Mitarachis is pretending to fight for? If there really were 'powerful lobbyists' protecting human rights at EU level (and there are not, or those human rights would be protected) Mitarachis in opposing them is fighting against those rights, which are designed to keep people safe.

In his fantasy, Mitarachis, like many petty, dull men, stands against the 'powerful' not to improve lives, but to be allowed to kill people.

It would be pathetic were Mitarachis not in a position where he can do – and literally has done – precisely the killing that seems to excite him and make him feel powerful.

We should not be surprised that a man who wants to kill people should stress that 650 deaths of foreign people is an acceptable price to avoid any risk to two Greek people – and that is precisely what he is saying: last Wednesday, 650 men, women and children died needlessly because of the Greek Coastguard's in/action and Mitarachis says this is OK because two Greek Coastguards might have been 'at risk' had they attempted to save them.

We really are living in a world where this person is a government minister with power over people's life or death.

But we should also note that even this excuse is a lie. Mitarachis and the Greek Coastguard are perfectly happy to board boats in order to carry out illegal pushbacks, and beat (and occasionally kill) people while they are at it. We have thousands of testimonies, as well as video footage, to prove it.

Equally, the Greek Coastguard carries guns.

The point being, the Greek government is perfectly happy to see the Coastguard 'risk' being 'stabbed' when it is to harm foreign people.

What Mitarachis means is that Greek lives are worth something to him if that offers an excuse for the deaths of foreign men, women and children.

We live in a horrifying time and place, made all the worse by the fact that on Sunday, Mitarachis will almost certainly be re-elected to hurt and kill foreign people at will.

2) Nine Egyptians accused of 'trafficking' will remain in custody

The court in Kalamata hearing the case of the nine Egyptian survivors of the Pylos catastrophe in which 650 people were killed last Wednesday (14 June 2023) has ordered the men will be held until their case is heard.

The date of this hearing – which is necessary because they pleaded not guilty (Monday 19 June 2023 Egyptian men plead not guilty to trafficking) because they absolutely are not guilty – has not been set.

While it appears there are four charges to be considered here: negligent manslaughter, exposing lives to danger, causing a shipwreck and human trafficking; we should note that the first three are immediately impossible unless the fourth, of 'trafficking' is upheld.

And it cannot be because: there is no evidence at all that any of the people aboard the vessel were being trafficked; smugglers do not travel on boats on which they have sold spaces; there are many good reasons why people would need to flee Egypt and Libya.

One point to note here. One of the men's lawyers submitted a request to dismiss the case because, he argued, if Greece had no jurisdiction in the waters in which the catastrophe occurred, as Notis Mitarachis has falsely claimed several times in the last six days (Monday 19 June 2023 Mitarachis lies about the law) (in fact, the boat sank in the Greek Search and Rescue Zone, and the effort by Mitarachis is a thoroughly unpleasant attempt by him and his party to dodge responsibility for a disaster they caused, and 650 people they killed, in an area over which of course they have jurisdiction), it could not prosecute anyone involved in it.

The court dismissed this submission, which may indicate a precedent meaning that the Greek legal establishment does believe the incident can be prosecuted in Greece, and therefore took place in an area over which Greece has jurisdiction. It is far from clear whether this was part of the reason Mitarachis dropped his claim yesterday, pretending instead that 'risk to two Greek people's lives' was of greater importance than the deaths of 650 men, women and children (Thursday 22 June 2023 Notis Mitarachis stretches bounds of reality, basic commonsense, in latest Pylos outburst).

While the opposite decision would have been far better for the nine innocent men who now face months and perhaps years behind bars before even having their case heard, it does at least leave the door open to the full weight of the law being turned on the Greek Coastguard and government, who bear the overall responsibility for these deaths (with help from the Italian fascist government, Eastern Libyan 'authorities' and the EU).


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