Border policies see hundreds of refugees left to drown off Greece

While the desperate search for a missing submersible covered our news feeds, 750 refugees were left for dead in the Mediterranean after a fishing vessel capsized.

While three separate countries spent millions in an attempt to rescue billionaire thrill seekers on the submersible Titan, the refugees were deliberately left to die.

At least 500 people are missing and presumed drowned. Despite the trauma, many survivors will now face the threat of deportation from Greece back to the countries they fled from.

The Greek authorities have strongly denied they were at fault. But the evidence shows otherwise.

The first distress call was received by the refugee monitoring group “Alarm Phone” at 2:30pm on 13 June. An hour later the trawler was located via helicopter by the Greek coastguard. Aerial photographs showed every inch of the boat covered with people, some with hands outstretched.

Six people had already died due to the horrible conditions on the boat. For five days they had no drinking water. Those on board were forced to drink sea water and their own urine. Some were driven to suicide.

Yet four hours later, at 6:30pm, the Greek coastguard claimed the boat was safely headed for Italy. In fact its engine had broken down and the boat had been drifting aimlessly for five days.

The coastguard had received the position of the boat. Alarm Phone had been told by passengers that the trawler was not moving, and the captain had fled to another boat. The boat was not moving for seven hours before it sank.

The Greek coastguard continues to claim that the boat was safely headed to Italy and did not want help. Their story is full of holes. Three days after the sinking they admitted a rope was thrown to the boat. It’s possible this is what caused it to capsize.

One survivor said “The coastguard threw a rope but because they didn’t know how to pull the rope, the vessel started dangling right and left. The coastguard boat was going too fast but the vessel was already dangling to the left, and that’s how it sank.”

The coastguard denies they tried to tow the boat.

But there are suspicions they were trying to tow it away from Greek waters—as Greek authorities have done in the past.

The authorities were much quicker to deny responsibility than they were to act. One man was treading water amongst dead bodies, including children, for two hours before he was seen and rescued.

Turning back boats

This tragedy could have been prevented. It is the product of the vicious EU border regime, which persecutes anyone arriving “irregularly” from non-EU countries.

Billions of dollars are poured into trying to prevent refugees reaching Europe via boat from Libya, and search and rescue operations are criminalised. The result is refugees are condemned to either be trapped in Libya, or die at sea.

The approach is inspired by our own government’s notorious cruelty towards refugees. Like Australia, the EU “deters” refugees by exiling them in foreign countries like Turkey, as well as funding the Libyan Coast Guard to implement boat turnbacks.

A video released by the New York Times in May provided proof of the Greek government’s shocking pushback operations.

It showed a group of 12 asylum seekers, including children, being taken from the Greek island of Lesbos and summarily expelled to Turkey. They were loaded onto a Greek coastguard vessel and then abandoned on a raft to drift back into Turkish waters, where they were eventually rescued by the Turkish coastguard.

Within 24 hours of the sinking 30,000 people were on the streets of Athens in protest against the government’s contempt for refugee lives and its cruel anti-refugee policies. There were other demonstrations across the country.

Despite the Nauru detention centre now being empty, our own Labor government is committed to keeping it open, insisting no refugee who arrives by boat will ever be allowed to settle permanently in Australia. Around 80 refugees remain in Papua New Guinea, and 14,000 asylum seekers are trapped in Indonesia. The deadly policy of boat turnbacks continues.

These policies are being exported worldwide as governments try to deflect anger at the cost of living towards refugees. This makes more of these tragedies inevitable, unless there is a fight to force them back.

The fight for open borders and freedom for refugees in Australia has international ramifications. In Greece, anti-racist group KEERFA (United Against Racism and the Fascist Threat) are campaigning for the victims and the survivors now facing deportation to get the justice they deserve.

We need to keep up the fight against Labor to free the refugees and win justice for all those who have suffered under Australia’s ten long years of bipartisan refugee cruelty.

By Cooper Forsyth


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