“An independent investigation is underway. We want to find out the complete truth,” Greek Deputy Prime Minister and Council Representative, Evangelos Venizelos promised during a debate in the European Parliament on Wednesday.
Twelve immigrants including children drowned several weeks ago near the Greek island of Farmakonisi while trying to reach European territory.
Greece has faced harsh criticism following the deadly incident as some survivors claimed that their boat capsized while being towed by the Greek Coast Guard towards Turkey. Greek officials have denied these accusations.
The European Home Affairs Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstroem, who was also present at the debate, acknowledged that there are “severe allegations” of illegal pushbacks of migrants by the Greek authorities. However she said that based on the information so far it was a search and rescue operation. “Pushbacks are illegal according to European and International law,” she underlined.
Venizelos called for more solidarity from the rest of Europe to help the border countries, such as Greece and Italy, deal with the influx of migrants.
“Our means are not sufficient. The tragedy of Farmakonisi is one more example of this pressure,” he said. “The priority of the Greek Presidency is to set up an integrated strategy of border management.”
Malmstroem replied that, “apart from solidarity, we also need responsibility.”
“We provide Greece with help to deal with this influx. Financial, technical, human resources help. Migrants are getting in these vessels because there are no legal ways to come to Europe. There are very serious allegations of pushbacks and ill treatment of migrants in Greece. We need to shed full light”.
Greek independent MEP Kritonas Arsenis attributed political responsibilities to Minister Venizelos for Farmakonisi incident calling the members of the Greek Coast Guard involved “executioners”. He also conveyed to the Parliament testimony from some of the survivors: “The Coast Guard did not come to save us, they wanted to drown us.”
“I lifted a baby so that they see we are women and children.”
“The women screamed for help and the coastguards were insulting them.”
Greek MEP Maria Eleni Koppa denounced the government’s response in the wake of the incident. The Greek Shipping and Maritime Affairs Minister, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, had said that these accusations were made in an attempt to cause political problems to the Greek government.
Venizelos himself repeated that “these debates are often used for political ends,” and stressed that “the Greek authorities are ready to cooperate whenever asked.”