Answers and justice are still elusive a year after the tragedy of the Greek migrant boats

ATHENS/BEIRUT, (Reuters) – Egyptian electrician Mahmoud Sharabi was the only one from his hometown who survived when a fishing trawler crammed full of migrants capsized near Greece a year earlier. The boat disaster resulted in hundreds of deaths and is considered to be the worst in the Mediterranean.

Sixteen friends of Shalabi, who lived in a neighborhood near Cairo, were never located. Their relatives still call him every day to ask if they have found the missing or to find out what happened to the boat that day in June.

Shalabi, a 23-year old man who is working odd jobs in Athens while his asylum request is being processed, said in an interview that “no one accepts the possibility of death.”

Families are tortured daily, without knowing anything about the son, brother or father.

The tragedy on June 14, off the southwest coast of Greece, sent shockwaves throughout Europe and beyond. It also raised questions about European Union tactics to stop the flow migrants from Africa and Middle East. The boat was originally from Libya.

Interviews with survivors, lawyers and relatives reveal that a year after the incident, the Coast Guard’s role has not been investigated. No one has been found responsible and the relatives are still waiting to hear the fate of their loved ones.

The Coast Guard declined to comment. Christos Stylianides, the shipping minister, said that in due course, the courts would determine what had happened. He told Reuters that “we have to be patience.”

The cause of this shipwreck has been disputed. The survivors claim that the authorities capsized the boat when they attempted to tow it. Authorities claim that the boat refused to accept assistance.

Two experts, appointed by the Coast Guard to write a report one week after this incident, concluded that it was likely the migrants aboard the ship who caused the vessel to tip over.

Witnesses say that definitive answers will prevent such tragedies from happening again.

UNANSWERED Questions

The Greek coastguard had been monitoring the ship from the air since the morning of Wednesday, June 13. The ship made distress calls but the coast guard boat didn’t arrive until after 11pm. Three hours later, the vessel sank.

The situation aboard was dire. The supplies had run out. Shalabi, who was sleeping below deck, was woken up by screams when the boat began taking on water. He reached the surface where he saw a lot of floating corpses.

Estimates put the number of passengers at 700. About 104 people survived, and 82 bodies were found. The remainder are missing. The search for survivors was fruitless.

The Greek authorities had been blaming nine Egyptians aboard the ship for several months, but a Greek court dismissed their case last month. Legal experts say that the focus of the investigation is likely to be on coast guard.

Reuters reported that a local naval court launched an investigation in the past year. However, it is only at a preliminary phase, according to lawyers and government officials.

Andreas Pottakis, Greece’s Ombudsman, launched an investigation in November after the Coast Guard twice refused his requests for an internal inquiry, he stated. The investigation continues.

Eleni spathana, an attorney representing dozens survivors who sued Greek officials in September, alleging that the coast guard was responsible for the disaster, stated that basic questions about “the criminal actions and omissions” of Greek authorities remain unanswered.

DIM HOPES

Fatima Al Rahil and her five children live in the Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan. Last year, her husband Ihsaan fled to Europe to seek asylum. His family, who fled the war in Syria with him, may join him later.

Fatima was last heard by him on 9 June, as the boat left Libya.

Ihsaan couldn’t swim, so took a car tire for buoyancy. Khaled Al Rahil, his brother-in law, who was also with him, claimed that armed smugglers had thrown away his belongings when he boarded the boat.

Ihsaan was separated from Khaled in the tragedy. Khaled called Fatima the following day and said, “I don’t even know what happened.”

Fatima demanded answers. She sent a DNA sample from her son to Greece in November via the Red Cross. Three months later, the authorities confirmed that there were no matches with any of those who had died.

Fatima has no body to bury and is left with hope. She wonders if a fisherman has found Ihsaan, and is caring for him. He is missed by his children: in their dreams he shows up with gifts like candy or ear warmers.

She said, “We still live on hope. Even if it is just a 1%.” “Maybe he’s in heaven.” We’re still standing. “We are the victims.”

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