Four children drown in the Aegean before the cameras of the Greek Coast Guard | International

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A small inflatable raft slowly sinks with all its passengers on board. After 40 seconds, only the bow sticks out of the waves. The passengers end up submerged. Some try to hold on to what's left of the plastic; others simply disappear. After 10 seconds, nothing remains but a speck in the immensity of the sea. This is the description of one of the last shipwrecks that occurred in the Aegean Sea. It is one like many others that happen almost daily, but there is something that makes a difference: that it has been recorded on video and spread on social networks. Filmed somewhere between Turkey and Greece, it is a visual testimony of how the sea swallows the lives of some of the people trying to reach Europe. It was published by the Greek Coast Guard, which witnessed the tragedy before going to collect the survivors and the dead. Because there were: 18 people managed to survive, but four children drowned on camera in just a minute and a half that the recording lasted.

The text with which the Greek coast guards accompany the macabre document in their X account is informative and concise: "Video of the moment in which the boat with 22 migrants sinks and causes the death of four children at 6:15 on 28/ 8/2023, NE of Lesbos, 2.5 nautical miles, within Turkish territorial waters.” They have also published a press release in which they explain that the inflatable boat was sighted by one of their ships and that, after receiving the order from their headquarters, they came to the aid of the shipwrecked.

They claim that they previously made “repeated calls” to their Turkish counterparts to notify them of this shipwreck in their area of ​​jurisdiction, but without receiving a response. That the Turkish authorities did not help the migrants nor did they subsequently want to take care of them. “A Turkish Coast Guard ship appeared in said maritime area and approached at high speed, while the wreckage was being collected, and then refused to accept the rescued foreigners,” they say.

Of the 22 crew members, 18 were transported to the port of Mytilene, the capital of the island of Lesbos. Two of them received health care in the general hospital, and the remaining 16 were transferred to the quarantine area of ​​the Kara Tepe refugee camp, on the same island, managed by the Greek authorities. The four deceased were minors: an eight-year-old boy, two girls aged 14 and eight years old, and an 11-month-old baby, as confirmed by government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis. The boat had allegedly left Turkey days ago and its occupants came from Yemen, Palestine and Somalia, according to local media.

Once the video was made public, the Turkish Coast Guard has also offered its version of the incident. The agency maintains that it was informed and that a ship was sent "immediately" to the area. When he arrived, all the migrants had been taken to two boats belonging to their Greek counterparts. “There were no migrants at sea and no search and rescue operations were being carried out by the Greek Coast Guard,” they say.

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The Mytilene Central Port Authority is conducting an investigation and searches for missing persons continue. But what neither this nor the video published in

A possible reason behind the inactivity on the part of the Greek coast guard is the territorial conflict that Greece and Turkey have been dragging on since the seventies and which has to do, among other aspects, with the delimitation of the waters that belong to each country: Greece wants expand them throughout the Ionian, and Ankara warns that if the same idea occurs to them in the Aegean, which they share, it will be taken as a beautiful houses. “Search and rescue protocols are complicated. Turkey and Greece are neighboring countries, but relations are tense and that in the end means that nobody takes care of the people”, the Mint Lefteris Papaginiakis, director of the Greek Institute for Refugees. Neither he nor Vassilis Kerasiotis, director of HIAS Greece, an NGO that helps refugees, understand the circumstances under which a rescue is finally carried out that in principle could not be carried out due to the water issue. “The Greek statement maintains that they issued the alert to the Turks and since nobody acted, they asked permission to rescue. That authorization came too late”, muses Papaginiakis.

However, Vittorio Alessandro, retired admiral of the Italian Coast Guard, recalls that international maritime law provides that, when a shipwreck occurs and a ship detects it, it must communicate it to all ships around. “If the competent State does not intervene, the one in a position to provide assistance assumes responsibility,” he says. For this reason, a political dispute over the territoriality of some waters in no case serves to justify not assisting in a shipwreck. "They can. And, in fact, they must, by virtue of the international conventions of Hamburg and the Safety of Life at Sea, to which both States have adhered,” maintains Alessandro. This newspaper has tried to contact the Hellenic Coast Guard through different means, so far without success.

2,322 deaths this year

More than 17,000 people have arrived in Greece by land and sea in 2023, of which 5,300 have done so during August, according to United Nations figures. At least 2,322 deaths have been recorded so far this year, most in the central Mediterranean. Kerasiotis insists that the solution to these deaths is to provide legal and safe paths to emigrate. “As long as migrating is considered an illegal act, the population will continue to resort to dangerous routes and we will continue to mourn deaths,” he denounced.

Over the past two months there has been an increase in the number of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Greece. Just last weekend, dozens of people, including children, were helped adrift in the Aegean, between the islands of Lesbos, Kos and Samos, as shown by the videos that they themselves have shared on their social networks. In fact, also last Monday, at one in the morning, another boat with 37 people was assisted off Samos after the passengers fell into the water when they saw the patrol boat, according to the authorities' version. A woman and child were pulled from the water unconscious, but she died. On the same day, in the afternoon, another 75 migrants sailing in inflatable boats were rescued in three separate incidents in Lesbos.

Lefteris Papaginiakis notes that data collected by the Greek Refugee Institute indicates that this increase in arrivals coincides with a drop in push-backs. From July 31 to August 7, 159 people were hotly ejected from Lesbos after being found in Turkish waters near the island, while 378 more arrived on the island and were searched, according to the latest Coast Guard data. from Turkey.

For the director of the Greek Institute for Refugees, the drop in hot returns is due to an attempt to launder the image of the coast guard after they staged the worst shipwreck in the history of Greece, last June off the coast of pylos. Only 104 people survived and 86 bodies were recovered, while another 510 disappeared, most likely drowned. The disaster put the spotlight on the work of the Greek Coast Guard, whose patrol boats witnessed the sinking, but did not act until two hours had passed. The case was a scandal and that earned them strong criticism inside and outside their borders.

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