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Farmakonisi tragedy: Greece dismiss claims, coast guard was towing migrants’ boat back to Turkey

Contradictory claims from the side of the illegal migrants and the Greek coast guard have alerted the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Human Rights commissioner at the Council of Europe. Who is to blame for the tragedy off Farmakonisi islet, when a boat carrying undocumented migrants from Turkey to Greece capsized in the early morning hours of Monday and pulled into the cold waters of eastern Aegean Sea three women and nine children?

The sixteen survivors of the tragic incident off Farmakonisi islet , arrived at the port of Piraeus on Thursday morning. Speaking to reporters awaiting for them at the port together with UNHURT-personnel and translators, the migrants unfolded the drama and agony they experience during all these days after their boat capsized on Monday


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Up 3:07 minute: [note: I assume, there some problems with the translation …]

One migrant claims that they were hindered from getting on the coastguard boat, “they were trying to throw us back to the water… they were beating  us with the door [?] so that we fall back to the water, a child was shouting ‘mom’, ‘dad'”. The man lost four children and his wife.

Another migrant says, “They were swearing at us.” The man lost his wife, and his three children, 9, 11, and 13 years old.”


Με δάκρυα στα μάτια στον Πειραιά οι ναυαγοί απ' το Φαρμακονήσι

Sixteen migrants were rescued. The corpse of a child, 11, and a woman, 38, were washed ashore the Turkish coast line, two more women and 8 infants and children are still missing in the waters of eastern Aegean Sea.

According to United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 28 people (25 Afghans and 3 Syrians ) were on board of the boat, including many women and children. Still missing were 2 women and 8 infants and children. Sixteen survivors were rescued by the Greek coast guard.

The UNHCR demands an investigation of the incident, as the survivors told the UN-agency, that the Greek coast guard boat was towing their boat with high speed back to Turkey and thus amid a rough sea, when the boat capsized.

UNHCR personnel had traveled to Leros island beginning of the week to speak with the survivors.

The migrants’ claims have been vehemently dismissed the the Greek coast guard.  According to official Greek side, “during the rescue operation, two migrants fell overboard, a large number of boat passengers moved to one side to see what happened, the boat capsized and sank.”

The coast guard denied it was towing the boat to Turkey, but towards Farmakonisi islet, 1.5 nautical miles away. Strong winds of 5-6 Beaufort and waves up to 1.2-2 meters made the transfer of migrants to the coastguard boat impossible therefore towing was the only option. “Fire broke out in one of the migrants’ boat engines,” the coast guard said.

However, not only the UNHCR, also the human rights commissioner of Council of Europe, Nils Muiznieks expressed bouts about the rescue operations. Muiznieks described the tragedy as “shocking and distressing” and said “it appeared to be a failed collective expulsion” of migrants from Greece’s waters back to Turkey.

Μuiznieks’ statement triggered the angry reaction of Greek Marine Minister, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, accused him of attempting to “create a political problem” together with PASOK and SYRIZA, spoke of the incident as “a subject of dumb exploitation” and stressed that “nobody wants that we open the door to migrants”.

Varvitsiotis told SKAI FM on Thursday morning:

“Muiznieks and some others want to create a political problem in Greece . None, neither PASOK nor SYRIZA came to obtain information [about the incident].

It’s not possible that all these becomes a subject of dumb exploitation, I do not believe that anyone wants to  open the gates and all migrants enjoys asylum in the country.

It was an adrift boat , about 2.5 miles east of Pharmakonisi . Amid a rough sea the coast guard rushed to two it. A woman and a child fell into the sea, all migrants moved to one side,  consequently the boat capsized.  Some were rescued, others perished.

It’s not true, we towed the boat towards the Turkish coast, that can be proved with the blips.” (via

Miltiadis Varvitsiotis noted that there was a struggle in the Aegean sea and thus on a daily basis to rescue migrants. “Until now we had no loss , we have save 3,500 people at sea ,” he added.

PS a rescue operation amid a rough sea, panic: rescuers who shout in a language the boat passengers do not understand. Disoriented people in anxiety, in the darkness of the night. A country under pressure not to allow more undocumented migrants. It’s really very difficult to make a clue…

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