Greece migrant boat disaster relatives demand answers, one year on

  • World
  • Friday, 14 Jun 2024

FILE PHOTO: Egyptian survivor Mahmoud Shalabi, 22, one of the 104 survivors of a deadly migrant shipwreck off southwestern Greece, rests in a shelter following a rescue operation, in Kalamata, Greece, June 14, 2023. REUTERS/Stelios Misinas/File Photo

ATHENS (Reuters) - Demonstrators were due to rally in Athens on Friday to mark the anniversary of a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants off Greece and demand answers about the causes of the disaster and the fate of relatives.

Up to 700 migrants from Pakistan, Syria and Egypt were crammed in Libya into a fishing trawler bound for Italy. It capsized off southwestern Greece on June 14, 2023, even though the Greek coast guard had been monitoring it for hours.

Some 104 survivors were rescued but only 82 bodies were recovered. The catastrophe, one of the worst Mediterranean boat disasters on record, raised searching questions about how the European Union is trying to stem flows of migrants.

"I wake up to nightmares. Even now, I swear by God, my body still hurts," said one Egyptian survivor called Mohamed. "We, thanks to God, are alive ... Where are the rest of the bodies?"

Survivors and activists were planning rallies in Athens, London, Paris and Berlin. In the Pakistani city of Lalamousa, victims' relatives prepared a memorial ceremony.

Survivors say the coast guard caused the ship to capsize when it tried to tow the vessel in the early hours of the morning. Authorities say the movement of migrants on board tipped the overcrowded boat over.

A year on, a probe by a naval court into the coast guard's role is still at a preliminary stage, frustrating survivors, relatives and rights groups. Greece's shipping minister has called for patience.

Pantelis Themelis, commander of Greece's Disaster Victim Identification unit, said 74 of the 82 dead had been identified. But many more families from Africa, the Middle East and Asia have sent DNA samples to Greece for checks to no avail.

Hasan Ali, an Athens resident from Pakistan, said his brother Fahad was among the missing, and their parents back in Pakistan would not accept that he could be dead.

"My mother and father are waiting for him," Ali said. "They say he's alive, that he's in Greece."

(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris and Renee Maltezou; Editing by Edward McAllister and Kevin Liffey)

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