Geneva – Emerging reports that Greek authorities tampered with the testimonies of several migrants and asylum seekers who survived the shipwreck on 14 June, which resulted in the death and loss of over 640 migrants, are extremely shocking, Euro-Med Monitor said in a statement.
In addition to being disgraceful and immoral, tampering with victims’ testimonies is a criminal and illegal act that requires investigation and accountability. Greek authorities are trying to conceal the truth in an apparent attempt to avoid potential liability for the capsizing incident and the consequences that may result from an independent and impartial investigation into the case.
“Reports of Greece tampering with the testimonies of survivors of the 14 June shipwreck raise concerns about the authorities’ policy in dealing with past drownings,” said Ramy Abdu, Chairman of Euro-Med Monitor. “It is also consistent with the behaviour of governments in destination countries in previous similar incidents.”
Abdu added that “it is concerning that impunity is the prevalent pattern in dealing with such cases. Exempting officials from criminal responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of migrants in recent years raises doubts about Greek authorities’ ability to deal with victims’ testimonies and conduct impartial investigations in this context.”
An investigation published a few days ago based on official documents and the testimony of 17 survivors of the capsizing incident revealed that the Hellenic Coast Guard tampered with official data to avoid responsibility for the sinking, and pressured the survivors in order to influence their testimonies. The Coast Guard questioned nine survivors just hours after the boat capsized, and several significant parts of some testimonies appear to contain identical statements, raising alarms as one of the translators is a Hellenic Coast Guard member.
According to data provided by the Hellenic Coast Guard, the nine survivors blamed the capsizing on factors unrelated to the Coast Guard’s towing of the boat. In a subsequent round of questioning by a Greek court, however, six of the same nine survivors stated that the boat was towed by a Coast Guard boat shortly before it capsized.
Two of the nine survivors reported that the Hellenic Coast Guard withheld all information from their testimony indicating that the Coast Guard towed the boat before it capsized. “They asked me what happened to the boat and how it capsized,” one survivor said. “I told them that the Coast Guard tied a rope to our boat and pulled it, causing it to capsize, but they didn’t include that in my statement.”
“I confirmed in my statement that the Coast Guard’s towing of the boat caused it to capsize and sink,” another survivor said, “but they deleted that part of my statement. I signed the statement although it did not match my testimony, [because] I was terrified.” Sixteen of the 17 survivors interviewed for the investigation confirmed that a Hellenic Coast Guard boat tied a rope to the migrant boat and attempted to tow it shortly before the latter capsized.
In light of these serious discoveries, Euro-Med Monitor urges the Greek government and relevant investigation authorities to disregard the testimonies provided by the Hellenic Coast Guard, conduct a comprehensive review of all circumstances surrounding the incident, including new documentation of survivors’ testimonies by an impartial, independent committee, and ensure that survivors are protected and not subjected to any form of threat or intimidation.
Euro-Med Monitor emphasises the importance of investigating any allegations of tampering with survivor testimonies and identifying those responsible, as well as holding them accountable. The European Union, particularly destination countries, must relaunch official search and rescue operations, end all violent pushbacks at land and sea borders, and ease laws that strictly limit the regular arrival of migrants and asylum seekers, forcing them to take potentially deadly routes to Europe.