UN urges probe into migrants’ death off Greek island


The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has called for an investigation after a boat carrying migrants turned over while being towed by a Greek coastguard vessel, leaving up to twelve people dead.

The incident took place on January 20, near the Greek island of Farmakonisi, leaving two people dead while 10 others went missing.

“UNHCR is urging the authorities to investigate this incident and how lives were lost on a boat that was under tow,” said Laurens Jolles, the UNHCR’s southern Europe regional representative.

The UN body also quoted the survivors on the Greek Island of Leros as saying that the Greek coastguard had sought to take the boat toward the Turkish coast at high speed when the deadly incident happened.

“In addition, survivors need to be quickly moved to the mainland so that their needs can be better looked after,” Jolles added.

The Greek coastguard said in response to the UN on Wednesday that it had been trying to pull the boat to Farmakonisi and not to Turkey.

The coastguard extinguished a fire on the stricken boat and rescued 16 people from the water, Greek officials said.

Meanwhile, a German non-government organization, Pro Asyl, accused the Greek authorities of trying illegally to prevent the migrants from entering Greece.

“It is highly likely that this action by the Greek coastguard was an illegal push-back operation rather than a rescue at sea,” said Karl Kopp, the NGO’s director of European affairs.

Greece is one of the main destinations for migrants and refugees who try to enter the European Union.[More]