Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Greece: Farmakonisi migrant tragedy - one year on and still no justice for victims

Source: Amnesty

The Greek authorities’ failure to adequately investigate the deaths of 11 Afghans who drowned at sea shows a blatant disregard for justice for the victims and their families and exemplifies their hard-line approach towards asylum and migration, said Amnesty International on the anniversary of the Farmakonisi tragedy.

On 20 January 2014, 11 Afghans, including eight children, lost their lives when their fishing boat sank near the Greek island of Farmakonosi. Survivors claim they were towed at great speed back towards Turkey. The authorities dropped an investigation into the tragedy. Since then, more than 100 refugees and migrants have died crossing the Aegean Sea.

“It is an outrage that, in the face of all the survivors’ testimonies and the inconsistencies in the evidence provided by the coastguard, that the Greek authorities have failed to conduct an adequate investigation into this tragedy. Vulnerable people forced to flee their own country have been left mourning their loved ones with little hope for justice and reparation,” says John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia.

One Afghan survivor, Sabur Azizi, who lost his wife and 10-year-old son in the incident, explained: “Someone showed them the baby asking for help but the coastguards swore at us instead of helping us… When the coastguard cut the rope and tried to move away we started sinking.”

He and another survivor, who lost his wife and four children, were among 16 of the refugees who managed to get onto the coastguard vessel after their boat capsized. They told Amnesty International they were beaten and held at gunpoint. They also said that the captain threatened “he would cause them more trouble if they dared report any of what happened that night”.

The authorities dropped the investigation in August into the tragedy stating that the testimonies from the survivors were unfounded. Four NGOs, including the Greek Council of Refugees and the Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Refugees and Migrants insist that the prosecutor’s investigation was solely based on the testimonies of the coastguards and their superiors and failed to take into consideration other important evidence including serious discrepancies in the evidence provided by the coastguard.

Expert evidence has been presented claiming that the boat capsized because it was being towed in an inappropriate manner, including using a tow rope that was too short.

The survivors are now filing a complaint against the Greek authorities to the European Court of Human Rights, citing violations of the Right to Life (Article 2 ECHR), Freedom from Torture (Article 3 ECHR) and the Right to an Effective Remedy (Article 13 ECHR).

Amnesty International has repeatedly sounded the alarm at reports of serious human rights violations against migrants and refugees at the Greece-Turkey border and has called on the Greek authorities to stop pushing intercepted migrants and refugees back across the border to Turkey.

“Push-backs not only breach Greece’s human rights obligations but they also put lives at risk,” said John Dalhuisen.

Amnesty International also believes that pushbacks are inconsistent with EU law and calls upon the EU Commission to launch infringement proceedings against Greece for the push-backs along the Greece-Turkey border.

This is especially important as heightened security measures at the land border of Greece with Turkey in the Evros region, including the construction of a 10.5m fence, have prompted more and more refugees and migrants to take the dangerous sea route to Greek islands on small and overcrowded boats.

“The failure to adequately investigate events at Farmakonisi shows a callous disregard for the tragic loss of life. This coupled with the government’s determination to seal its borders raises the serious prospect that refugees and migrants will continue to needlessly drown in the Aegean,” said John Dalhuisen.

“Victims and their families have a right to reparation, which includes access to the truth and justice.