AS hundreds of Pakistanis are feared dead in a boat tragedy off the coast of Greece, a report in a UK newspaper claimed that Pakistani nationals were forced to stay below the deck by the crew which maltreated them during the journey.
An account of events that transpired on the ship before it sank revealed that certain nationalities, particularly Pakistani, were “condemned to the most dangerous part of the trawler” where they had a minimal chance of survival.
“The testimonies suggest women and children were effectively ‘locked up’ in the hold, ostensibly to be ‘protected’ by men on the overcrowded vessel,” the Guardian report said, adding that Pakistani nationals were maltreated “when they appeared in search of freshwater or tried to escape” from the hold.
The Guardian report claimed that the situation on the boat was so “bleak that even before it sank there had already been six deaths after it ran out of fresh water” — an assertion that contested the claims made by the Greek authorities.
Quoting a Moroccan-Italian activist, the newspaper said that passengers were pleading for help a day before it sank. “I can testify that these people were asking to be saved by any authority,” she said.
It quoted a survivor saying at least 700 were on board the trawler that had been drifting in the sea for days after its engine failed.
Are Greek officials lying?
The report also raised questions on the role of coastguards. “Of concern are claims that it overturned in the early hours of Wednesday because a rope was attached by coastguards, allegations rejected by Greek officials,” the Guardian said, adding that a government spokesman also confirmed a rope had been thrown to “stabilise” the boat.
It quoted the government officials who reportedly confirmed that “patrol boats and cargo ships had been shadowing the trawler since Tuesday afternoon”.
Maurice Stierl, of the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies at Osnabrück University in Germany, quoted by the newspaper, accused “many EU countries of ‘weaponising time’ by delaying rescue as long as they can, or what he called a ‘phase of strategic neglect and abandonment’.”
He said: “They have managed to build in delays into European engagement at sea. They’re actively sort of hiding, in fact, from migrant boats, so that they are not drawn into rescue operations. We can see how a strategy is being created, that slows down — actively and consciously slows down — rescue efforts,” he said.
According to Reuters, the death toll from Wednesday’s disaster could run to many hundreds as witness accounts suggested that between 400 and 750 people had packed the fishing boat that sank about 50 miles (80 km) from the southern Greek town of Pylos.
Greek authorities said 104 survivors and 78 bodies of the dead were brought ashore in the immediate aftermath of the accident as hopes were fading of finding any more people alive.
Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2023