December 14, 2023
From Socialist Worker (UK)

A dozen people with placards and a banner protest outside the Greek embassy illustrating a story about the amnesty report on Greek refugee drownings

Anti-racists protest outside the Greek embassy in London

Anti-racists gathered outside the Greek Embassy in London on Thursday to mark the publication of a powerful report into a refugee shipwreck. The Amnesty and Human Rights Watch report blames the Greek coast guard for one of the deadliest shipwrecks in the Mediterranean in July (see below).

Ulrike Schmidt from Amnesty told Socialist Worker, “The report’s headline is, ‘We want the world to know’. That’s what one of the survivors said. 

“The Greek authorities are doing everything they can to push this under the carpet. This was a horrific loss of life. But the impunity means this will happen again and again.

“This is not the first boat that has sunk, or the first time border guards have been involved. By holding governments accountable we’re hoping to change this.” 

Amnesty also called a protest in Athens, and anti-racist group Keerfa plans another in the Greek capital on Saturday.

Charlotte Khan from the Care4Calais charity said, “Over 27,000 refugees are dead and lost in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014. Every death, including four in the English Channel a year ago today, is the result of governments who are complicit in deals to keep people out. Tragedies like this occur because refugees are ‘othered’.

“Allowing people to travel safely and claim asylum is the only way these deaths will end.”

Ulrike added that anti-racists “have to change the narrative”. “Across Europe, particularly in Britain, the policies are to keep refugees out at all costs,” she said. “They believe hostility to refugees is a vote winner.

“We need to build a mass movement that says not in our name. We owe it to those who died and the survivors to make sure this doesn’t disappear under the carpet. We owe it to everyone still making these desperate journeys to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

  • Refugees welcome, safe passage now, Home Office, Marsham St, London, Mon 18 December, 5.30pm. Supported by Stand Up To Racism, PCS, NEU, NASUWT, TSSA unions, XR London, Peace & Justice Project, Stop the War, DPAC, Homes4All and more

What the report says 

A damning report blames Greek coastguards for one of the deadliest shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea—and accuses them of a cover-up.

The sinking of the boat Adriana off Pylos, Greece, last July killed at least 82 refugees and probably nearly 600. Only 104 survived, and just 58 of the 82 recovered bodies have been identified. Over 500 other people are still missing, and must be presumed dead.

Yousef, a survivor, said, “After the boat capsized, they left us for an hour until they started rescuing people from the water. Six months have passed and no one has been held accountable. Everyone had a dream, and everyone has a family.”

Survivor Nayef added that on the boat, “We were without water, food or anything, and we had dead people and sick people with us.

“On the last day for 15 hours, Greece had news that we were in its sea and did not respond to us.” The boat sank shortly after 2am local time.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch’s report was published six months after the sinking. It found that “the Hellenic Coastguard took limited action to ensure the safety of those on board”.

The coastguard claims between 3.30pm and 9pm people on the Adriana “consistently repeated that they wished to sail to Italy and did not want any assistance from Greece.” But the report quotes survivors who say that people did ask to be rescued.

The Joint Rescue Coordinate Centre at Piraeus dispatched a 40-metre patrol boat, the PPLS920, which reached the Adriana at only 10.40pm. The report says, “The coastguard received information about conditions on the boat that should have been interpreted as indicators of distress”.

At 5.53pm the day before the sinking, the rescue hotline Alarm Phone told the coastguard there were children on board, several people were “very sick” and passengers were “urgently asking for help.”

The captain of a nearby tanker said at 9.45pm that the boat was “rocking dangerously.” The report said the PPLS920 “was not equipped to perform a large-scale rescue” but did not call for help.

The coastguard claims that the Adriana’s engine ceased functioning at 1.40am on 14 June and it approached to assess the situation. At 2.04am the PPLS920 reported that the Adriana veered and capsized.

Senior Greek officials told Amnesty that the PPLS920 had used a rope to draw closer to the Adriana. But, they said, people on the boat cast it off and then continued their journey. In direct contrast, 11 survivors said the PPLS920 attached a rope to the boat, whose engines had failed, and accelerated.

This caused the boat to veer in various directions before capsizing. Abbas, from Syria, said, “If they had been serious and come immediately at least 300 would have been rescued.”

Survivors also said the PPLS920 moved quickly from the Adriana after the capsizing, creating a “wave”. As of early December, only 13 survivors had been summoned by the Naval Court to testify.

Amnesty said it has also been slow to collate evidence from officials and survivors, and many have not had their phones returned to them. Coastguard officials also changed survivors’ statements to avoid blame for the sinking.

The report skewers the lies and cruelty of the Greek authorities. But there is also a wider context.  The racism and scapegoating of the individual governments contributes to, and is sustained by, the Fortress Europe policy of the European Union.

Implementing that policy drowned nearly 2,000 people in the first six months of 2023. And hundreds more died trying to enter Europe through other routes.  The Greek authorities—and the European Union—murdered those on the Adriana.