Relatives and world leaders mourn the tragic loss of life as migrant boat sinks off Greek coast

World leaders have been expressing their horror and dismay at the tragic loss of life off the coast of Greece this week as the death toll is expected to rise into the hundreds in the latest refugee boat tragedy. The UN high commissioner expressed his condolences to those who have lost loved ones. Pope Francis sent a telegram of condolence in which he said that he was:

‘deeply dismayed to learn of the shipwreck off the coast of Greece with its devastating loss of life… [Offering heartfelt prayers] for the many migrants who have died, for their loved ones and for all those traumatised by this tragedy’

‘The Worst Tragedy Ever’ in the Mediterranean Sea

The sinking of the fishing boat which had departed days earlier from Libya with up to 750 people on board including as many as 100 children, has been described by EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson as possibly ‘the worst tragedy ever’ in the Mediterranean Sea. The official confirmed death toll at the end of the weekend, was 78 dead, although over 500 people are missing and the final toll of those who have perished in the disaster is expected to be in the hundreds.

Aerial view of fishing vessel taken by rescue helicopter on June 13th

Delay in responding to distress calls raises questions

The Greek government declared three days of mourning from Wednesday 14th June as claims emerged suggesting that a Greek coast guard vessel may have actually exasperated the difficulties, leading to the final sinking of the boat. There have been questions asked as to why no assistance was offered until several days after the boat was recorded as being in distress.

Vincent Cochetel, special envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the central and western Mediterranean, was critical of the response from the Greek authorities as he proclaimed on Friday, that Greece’s argument for not intervening ‘does not hold up’. He said:

‘Under international law, Greek authorities should have organised this rescue operation sooner, as soon as Frontex spotted the boat in distress…the boat was full to bursting… and the photos taken by Frontex, leave no doubt that it was adrift and that people were objectively in a distress situation’ 

Tougher measures to restrict migrant flows and to deport failed asylum seekers proposed by EU countries

The EU Commissioner spoke as EU leaders are, according to reports, preparing to introduce new tougher measures at an EU summit next month, to make it easier to deport migrants back to their country of origin and to tighten visa requirements in what has been described as a ‘sweeping overhaul of the EU’s asylum and migration policies’.  A draft of the proposed new measures appears to directly target non-EU countries such as Africa, the Middle East and Asia with the justification given that governments from these countries have failed to implement the successful return of claimants denied the right to remain.  

Dr. Evelien van Roemburg, head of Oxfam International’s EU Office and Academic Director at University of Amsterdam’s summer school on Migration and Integration: Refugees, Rights and Realities, responded by arguing that the shift in EU strategy was narrow minded in its objectives. She said the proposed new strategy:

‘[failed] to put human rights first, as it treats people as pawns in EU trade negotiations and development policy…The EU’s obsessive focus on externalising their migration responsibilities is not in line with their continued statements of equal partnership with non-EU countries. Instead, the EU bullies them into meeting their narrow-minded political objectives.

Special Partnership with Tunisia explored to stop migrants from travelling across the Mediterranean to Europe

Details of the proposed measures hit the news headlines as the EU Chief, Ursula Von der Leyen, along with the notoriously anti-migrant Prime Minister of Italy, Giorgia Meloni and the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, visited Tunisia to meet the country’s President Kais Saied, in order to discuss a €1bn proposal for Tunisia to provide a vanguard against ‘people-smuggling, human trafficking and continuing tragedies at sea’. Kais Saied, widely regarded as an authoritarian leader, has yet to approve the so-called ‘partnership’, and is understood to be holding out in order to secure concessions on IMF lending conditions.

New Survey finds UK Government out of step with public opinion in respect of its toxic approach to refugees

Meanwhile a new Ipsos study reveals the UK Government’s ‘toxic’ rhetoric on migration is out of step with popular public opinion in Britain, with the majority of UK citizens expressing a more positive outlook towards refugees.  

The study revealed that 56% of UK citizens held the opinion that refugees made a ‘positive contribution’ to the country’s economy. It also indicated a surprising support for refugees being allowed to settle in the UK – 54% of those polled supported refugees being allowed to stay. The finding of the report as it relates to the UK, seems to indicate that the more our government officials continue to sensationalise and to make false claims about migrants, the more that positive support for migrants has increased. UK Cabinet ministers have faced criticism in recent weeks for making statements suggesting that Britain was on the verge of an ‘invasion’ of the south coast by migrants crossing the channel, who would bring with them ‘heightened levels of criminality…drug-dealing, exploitation and prostitution’.

The internationally structured survey, which has been conducted with 22,000 adults spanning a sample base from over 29 different countries, actually found the British population to be amongst the most positive of all responding groups – third most sympathetic to the plight of refugees after Spain and New Zealand.  The attitude of the British population however, was not representative of the majority of opinions across the globe, which according to the study has hardened significantly over the last year, with the exception of a spike in support for Ukrainian refugees.  

It was interesting to note that the number of UK citizens who thought that ‘people should be able to take refuge in other countries, to escape from war or persecution’ has in fact risen from a level of 73% in 2021 to 84% in 2023.  


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