Up to 600 people drown off Pylos, Greece - only days after EU leaders agreed to further erode the right to asylum

Open letter by over 180 human rights organizations and initiatives together with Tima Kurdi, aunt of Alan Kurdi.

Today on World Refugee Day, we jointly demand full and independent investigations into the events, clear consequences for those responsible, an end to the systematic pushback practices at the European borders, and justice for the victims.

10 years after the two shipwrecks off Lampedusa, Italy, killing around 600 people and causing an immense public outcry, up to 600 people drowned off Pylos, Greece, in the Mediterranean Sea. On June 14, 2023, once again, the European border regime killed people exercising their right to seek protection. We are shaken! And we stand in solidarity with all survivors and with the families and friends of the deceased. We express our deep condolences and grief.

So far, uncountable questions remain unanswered. According to testimonies of the survivors, the Hellenic coast guard towed the boat causing it to capsize. Why was this incredibly dangerous maneuver attempted at all? Did the Hellenic coast guard tow the boat toward Italy to push people forward into Italian or Maltese responsibility? Why did neither the Hellenic coast guard nor the Italian or Maltese authorities intervene earlier even though they were alerted at least 12 hours before? What role did the European border and coast guard agency Frontex play?

In all this uncertainty, one thing is unmistakable: This shipwreck – as well as countless others before – is the direct consequence of political decisions taken to prevent people from arriving in Europe. This shipwreck results from the impunity of illegal activities exercised by states at borders and the legalization of practices that aim to normalize the deprivation of rights of people on the move. Activists and organizations have denounced systematic push- and pullbacks, delays and omission of rescues, criminalization of civil search and rescue operations, and cooperation with unsafe countries to externalize European borders and to carry out refoulments. European migration and externalization policies cause physical and psychological violence, imprisonment, and death. Stop diverting your responsibility – Stop killing people on the move!

So far, the European Union and its member states have shown no intention to learn from the past years and end the deaths in the Mediterranean. Instead, they tighten their deadly policies of isolation. Only last week, on 8 June, the Council of the European Union agreed on a reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) leading to a massive deprivation of fundamental rights, such as the right to asylum or the right to move freely.

It was only a matter of time until the next shipwreck happened and it will happen again while conditions in countries of origin, transit, and departure worsen and border practices force people on the move to take more dangerous routes. Since Lampedusa in 2013, we have seen at least 27.047 deaths in the Mediterranean Sea. One of them was Alan Kurdi. His aunt, Tima Kurdi, loudly speaks out about the deadly shipwreck:

“This shipwreck brings back my pain, our pain. I am heartbroken. I am heartbroken for all the innocent souls lost that are not just numbers in this world. “Never again” we heard in 2015, I heard it countless times. And what changed? How many innocent souls have been lost at sea since then? I want to take you back to September 2, 2015, when all of you saw the image of my nephew, the 2-year-old baby lying on the Turkish beach. What did you feel when you saw his image? What did you say, what did you do? Me, when I heard about my nephew drowning, I fell to the floor crying and screaming as loud as I could because I wanted the world to hear me! Why them? Why now? And who’s next? Since then, I decided to raise my voice and speak up for everyone who is not heard. And most importantly for my nephew, the boy on the beach, Alan Kurdi, whose voice will never be heard again. Please do not be silent and add your voice to mine. We cannot close our eyes and turn our backs to people seeking protection. Open your heart and welcome people fleeing to your doorstep.

The European migration policy needs to change now. It needed to change a long time ago already. It needs to provide safe ways to flee. Building a wall is no solution. Detaining rescue ships for saving lives is no solution. Blaming people as smugglers is no solution. People are suffering, and they will always find a way to flee. You have the power to decide if they have to take dangerous routes because there is no other way to go. Act on it!”

With the unforgivable shipwreck off Greece, we see that the Mediterranean Sea is not only a graveyard, it is a crime scene. A scene of crimes against humanity with millions of privileged tourists continuing to cruise on it freely every year. On this account, we demand an immediate end to (systemic) border violence. We demand that:

  • Both Greek and European governments and institutions ensure that full, thorough, and independent investigations into these events are conducted. It’s time for complete transparency about what happened and accountability of those responsible. This includes officials who were directly involved in the events through decision-making, as well as those political leaders who have been facilitating and perpetuating the hostile practices at the external borders for years. Access to justice for the victims and their loved ones must be ensured.
  • The Greek government immediately releases the Pylos shipwreck’s survivors from (semi-)closed facilities and instead provides them with dignified accommodation and any kind of support needed, such as independent legal counseling, psychological support, and the possibility to communicate with families and friends. Furthermore, we petition for the release of the 9 men arrested. We condemn the criminalization of people on the move, blamed for illegalized entries and deaths at sea. These accusations are intended to exonerate responsible state actors.
  • All European member states at the external borders stop the weaponizing of time by delaying rescue efforts. Furthermore, we demand independent investigations and conclusive measures by the European Commission against the systematic practice of pushbacks and non-assistance at sea and on land conducted by European member states – as widely demonstrated by organizations and activists in recent years.
  • The European Union and its member states provide safe and legal routes to Europe as the only solution to avoid further loss of life at sea. The CEAS reform, further eroding the right to asylum in the European Union, must not become law. Additionally, we demand the creation of a long overdue European state-led rescue program.

See attached signatories