PRESS RELEASE / June 20, 2023

Greece's boat tragedy must serve as wake up call for EU over refugee failings

Award-winning Syrian refugee filmmaker Waad al-Kateab demands full investigation into the catastrophic failures of the Greek coastguard

EU states must commit to protecting refugees by providing more safe and legal routes for refugees to reach Europe and ending inhumane immigration policies, The Syria Campaign said today marking World Refugee Day..

The deadly drowning of more than 500 refugees and migrants off the coast of Greece last week was a preventable tragedy.  Many of those who lost their lives on the overcrowded boat were fleeing brutal human rights violations under authoritarian regimes, including hundreds of Syrians, Palestinans, Egyptians, Afghans and Pakistanis. But instead of finding safety and security they were left to drown.

Waad al Kateab, award-winning Syrian filmmaker and co-founder of Action for Sama which advocates for the rights of refugees said: 

“I am shocked and angered by the news that hundreds of refugees like me and my family died risking their lives to seek safety from the atrocities in their countries. 

“And I am outraged that this tragedy could have been prevented if a search and rescue operation had been launched sooner. Instead the people aboard the boat were abandoned and left to drown.

“A full investigation must be launched immediately into the catastrophic failures of the coastguards. The people who lost their lives and their families deserve truth and justice. They are not just numbers, to me they are each as unique and precious as every member of my own family who were forced to flee Syria after being displaced from Aleppo. We also had dreams and hopes for a better future. 

“But accountability cannot end there. For too long the EU has fallen short in its obligations to protect refugees, stepping up hostile immigration policies to push back refugees instead of establishing safe and legal routes for people to come to safer countries. We must protect people fleeing human rights abuses seeking safety, not condemn them to death.”

Laila Kiki, Executive Director of The Syria Campaign, said: 

“Losing more than 500 people in one day due to political negligence is utterly shameful and should not pass without accountability. This horrific tragedy must act as a wake up call to the EU that their inability to address the root causes of why Syrians are fleeing Assad’s hell, should not be topped with complete indifference to lives seeking safety on their shores. No human being who fled atrocities with hopes for a better future deserves to drown fleeing persecution due to a lack of political will and basic humanity.  

“The reports that have emerged suggesting that the Greek coastguard stood by and watched as a boat carrying more than 750 people sank are horrifying. The incident sends a chilling signal about the lengths to which European states are willing to go to keep refugees and migrants from reaching their shores. Refugees and migrants have the right to be protected, not subjected to increasingly hostile immigration policies and scapegoated by right-wing politicians.”