GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 699, 22 June 2023

Greece: Migrant boat disaster and humanitarian crisis
Nithyashree RB

In the News
On 14 June, a fishing vessel carrying migrants from Tobruk, Libya, sank in the Ionian Sea, 80 kilometres southwest of Pylos, Greece. On 16 June, a statement from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR informed that the number of people onboard the fishing vessel was between 400 and 750. It stated: "So far 104 people have been rescued and 78 bodies retrieved, while hundreds remain missing, and feared dead." The UN Human Rights Office reported that 500 people are missing.

On 14 June, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated: "Every person searching for a better life deserves safety and dignity." The UNHCR office in Greece stated: "We need more safe pathways for people forced to flee. They should not be left with impossible life-threatening choices." Following the incident, the Greek government arrested nine Egyptians in Kalamata, Greece, and the Pakistani government arrested 14 suspects involved in the migrant shipwreck over human trafficking charges.

Issues at Large
First, the migrants crossing across the Mediterranean Sea. Migrants and human traffickers use the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. With stricter rules levied by the EU and countries like Greece, migrants embark on deadly routes to reach Europe. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 20,000 people have died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean since 2014. Most passengers often travel in overcrowded and unsafe boats that are not seaworthy. 

Second, maritime laws regarding rescuing victims of maritime accidents. Countries and Masters of ships are bound to rescue survivors regardless of whether they are migrants, asylum seekers or refugees. Safeguarding life at sea and providing assistance are crucial laws that countries and shipping vessels are to follow. The European Union states the rescue operation should be carried out under the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) guidelines. In the current context, the Greek Coast Guard failed to oblige. Greece has been criticised for handling migrants in several similar instances. In July 2022, a boat carrying migrants sank when the Greek Coast Guards towed it away to Turkey. In May 2023, a video sent to The New York Times confirmed Greece leaving migrants stranded on rafts in international waters. 

Third lack of adequate legal mechanisms and a larger debate across Asia, Africa and Europe to deal with migration disasters across the Mediterranean. In the current context - there are three actors - the source countries from Africa and Asia, the transit countries in northern Africa and Southern Europe, and the destination countries in Europe. The legislation and mechanisms to implement the same have proved ineffective, as could be observed from continuous migrant disasters like the one witnessed recently. 

In perspective
The disaster underlines a larger problem. Despite the risk of drowning, dehydration, starvation during the crossing, and abuse by smugglers/human traffickers, migrants opt for deadly journeys. There is a need for a larger debate at multiple levels and in different places. In the EU, among those countries that are used as entry points,  in those countries in Africa, the migrants pursue their journey across the Mediterranean and also at the source countries - from the Middle East, South Asia and other regions.

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