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Arrival of Bodies of Greek Shipwreck Victims: Condolences and Questions About the Egyptian Passengers

A undated handout photo provided by the Hellenic Coast Guard shows migrants onboard a boat during a rescue operation, before their boat capsized on the open sea, off Greece, June 14, 2023. Hellenic Coast Guard/Handout via REUTERS.
A undated handout photo provided by the Hellenic Coast Guard shows migrants onboard a boat during a rescue operation, before their boat capsized on the open sea, off Greece, June 14, 2023. Hellenic Coast Guard/Handout via REUTERS.

According to the Refugees Platform in Egypt (RPE) findings, residents of Tala in Menoufia Governorate and Abrash in Al-Sharqia Governorate were able to identify 14 bodies of their family members among the victims of the “Pylos” shipwreck in Greece through DNA analysis. Egyptian authorities had informed the victims’ families on June 22nd to travel to Cairo for DNA testing before they were sent to Greece via a diplomatic pouch to be received by the Greek authorities. This came after widespread appeals from families that were intentionally left in the dark by both the Egyptian and Greek authorities regarding the procedures for identifying their loved ones.

On the 14th of June, the Hellenic Coast Guard caused the capsizing of a boat off the Greek coast carrying around 750 migrants. Only 104 survived, and 82 bodies were recovered as of June 7th. According to the families’ testimonies, there were approximately 250 Egyptian passengers on board including children, of whom only 43 survived. 

The Egyptian response came late, with the first official statement from Cairo being issued three days following the incident. The statements by The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Emigration included condolences and clarification of the role of Egyptian authorities in combating the “smuggling of migrants,” excluding any information that could assist the victims’ families. The first practical step taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs came on the 19th of the same month, with a decision to form a specialized committee to follow-up on the incident. The committee then requested the families to travel to Cairo for DNA testing. No subsequent statements have been issued regarding the disaster of the results of the samples.

Meanwhile, Athens has accused 9 Egyptians of being responsible for the capsizing of the boat, whose trial is still ongoing amidst human rights reports indicating pressure from the Greek government on the survivors to testify against them and absolve the Greek government of any responsibilities. In a statement, the RPE has called on the Egyptian government to comply with Egyptian law, which obliges providing support to the survivors and the families of victims and missing individuals.

The RPE extends its heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims identified in this tragedy that befell them, and declares its full solidarity with the rights of the families of the victims and missing persons to ascertain their beloved ones’ fates, the conduct of a fair and transparent investigation, compensation, and holding those responsible accountable.

The Platform also renews its queries regarding the role of the Egyptian government in the boat capsizing disaster and all similar incidents, in addition to its treatment of victims of irregular migration and their families.

We question the delay in response to the families that kept appealing to the responsible authorities for days with no avail. We also question the delay of the Ministry of Emigration in providing information related to the incident, the names of the victims and survivors, and making clear announcements regarding the procedures the victims’ families should follow. Moreover, we question the Egyptian government’s vision regarding irregular migrants and their treatment, especially with the adoption of Law No. 82 of 2016 and its amendments, which stipulates that irregular migrants and their families are victims and bear no criminal liability.

Additionally, we question the role of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in monitoring the situation of the nine Egyptians detained in Greece, who face serious charges that survivors testify are false. We question the Egyptian government’s role in demanding a fair and transparent investigation from the Greek and European sides. We also question the provision of psychological support, reparations, and compensations for the families. Moreover, we question the Egyptian government’s plans to deal with irregular migration driven by economic hardship, human rights crises, and the tight grip on the public sphere.

We question future damage reduction plans that the Egyptian authorities tend to implement, especially since security deterrence plans for irregular migration have only resulted in a rise in human rights violations, including unofficial arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, and unfair trials faced by hundreds of Egyptians and non-Egyptians on charges related to assisting irregular migrants, culminating in the murder of an Egyptian citizen in Matrouh during a security campaign against irregular migration.

Last but not least, we question the opening of space for discussion, dialogue, and finding solutions to an issue that concerns the present and future of Egypt.

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