Another ship on the Aegean, another tragedy
It was 2015, 8 years ago, when the refugee crisis began. Many things have changed, yet many remain the same. For years, we have seen how a policy centered on border security leads to deadly shipwrecks. The news broke on Wednesday night around the world. Another Mediterranean shipwreck.
The shipwreck of a vessel with hundreds of refugees and migrants onboard off the western coast of Greece, near the town of Pylos, led to the death of at least 81 people up until now. Search-and-rescue operations have rescued 104 people, but hundreds more may be missing. The number of people onboard the vessel remains unclear, despite media reports mentioning a number between 400 and 750 migrants.
The exact details of the disaster are still unclear and have proven a controversial issue. The Hellenic Coast Guard had approached the vessel several hours before it capsized, reportedly illuminating the boat and informing those onboard using loudspeakers that the vessel would not be able to reach the Italian coast which was its destination.
However, serious doubts remain about the Hellenic Coast Guard’s mishandling of what has become the deadliest shipwreck recorded in the Mediterranean in recent years.
In accordance with Solomon’s research, an investigative journalistic outlet, the Hellenic Coast Guard became aware of the vessel in the early morning hours of Tuesday, and they also received a help request from Watch the Med – Alarm, a hotline for boat people in distress, but no rescue action was undertaken, due to various reasons that they presented (boat on International waters, no authority to intervene, no request for assistance, impossible to help due to the condition of the ship).
Political Debate in Greece
This contradictory information and the fact that Greece is this week heading to the 2nd round of national elections, brought once again the migration topic on the political agenda and the pre-election discussion of the topic. The EU Migration Policy, the Evros border fence that New Democracy has been building, and refugees became part of the pre-election messages of the party leaders and candidates.
New Democracy and former Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis focused their messages on the excellent work of the Greek Coast Guard, doctors, nurses, and volunteers in the region, who are working to help the survivors and continue the rescue operations. Moreover, they deny the accusations of any illegal actions that are connected with their government, saying that ND policies are focusing on securing and protecting national borders. It was only some weeks ago when Mitsotakis traveled to Evros and used the building of the Evros fence on the Greek-Turkish borders as part of his campaign.
In a public announcement in April, he referred "After the attempted immigration invasion in March 2020, it became abundantly clear to me that we need a strong deterrent that will support our overall border security policy. Obviously, the fence is not the only tool that we have at our disposal, we have hired many border guards, we have strengthened the technological means to monitor the entire border, and we have strengthened the coast guard to monitor our sea borders.”
Additionally, he stated that the research should be focused on the traffickers in order to provide justice. We "should be outraged at the wretched traffickers, as much as we are shocked by the tragic migrants' shipwreck," New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis told people at Githio on Saturday.
On the other side of the spectrum, SYRIZA and its leader Alexis Tsipras have used the incident to blame the previous Government of New Democracy and EU migration policy, which as he argued “turns the Mediterranean, our seas, into watery graves”.
More precisely, Alexis Tsipras in a meeting with caretaker Minister of Civil Protection, Evangelos Tournas, asked for an immediate investigation into why the Greek Coast Guard did not intervene immediately, highlighting information on delays and mishandling that lead to the tragedy.
Moreover, this rhetoric is part of the general strategy followed by SYRIZA after the 1st round on 21st of May. They emphasize on a strong and coherent Opposition, which can be secured with a strong society and social state against New Democracy, which is considered and presented as an “unaccountable regime”.
Last but not least, PASOK-KINAL one of the winners of the first round intensified its work, and especially Nikos Androulakis, used the differentiation of himself and the party from SYRIZA as a cornerstone for the campaign. In this way, they are attempting to gain the “undecided voters” and people from the center and center-left sides of the political spectrum.
As far as the incident in Pylos is considered, Adroulakis brings his European experience and political arguments regarding the migration crisis. He states that the migration-refugee issue will escalate in the next decades and Greece and the EU should be prepared. The reasons can vary (climate change or because of conflicts and strong terror organisations), but the results will be the same if we do not act accordingly. Moreover, he asked the caretaker government for answers to what really happened. “We hear many things and it would be good if they were clarified," he said, additing that he believes that the fence in Evros prevents Turkiye's strategy of instrumentalising migration to the level of a hybrid war. Therefore, we can identify that PASOK-KINAL stands somewhere in between the policies and political proposals of New Democracy and SYRIZA.
Need for action
Taking all these into consideration, and the political polarization due to the elections, Greeks organized demonstrations in big cities asking for research and answers for the loss of those human lives.
The European Commission brushed aside pressure from international organizations to launch an independent probe into the conduct of the Greek authorities for the shipwreck. The alarming and tragic incident that lead to the loss of people’s lives, came once again on the surface to remind us of the urgent need for a common, united EU migration policy focused on solidarity and the protection of human life and dignity.
Only some weeks ago, at the beginning of June, the member states of the EU agreed on a New Migration Policy Pact, which, among other things, focuses on a common asylum procedure (fast-tracked border procedures), new solidarity mechanism, and modification of Dublin rules. The Agreement was not without resistance and negotiations among the Member States, with some countries welcoming the alterations and others answering with criticism.
Greece’s responsibilities, which has repeatedly committed illegal border violations and so-called pushbacks should be examined, and Europe should promote a vital and long-lasting solution that will create safe and secured routes for those in need and accommodate the internal and external security of the Union.