On June 16, MSF started providing emergency medical support to 87 of the 104 survivors of the shipwreck off the Greek coast. Greece, 2023. © Avra Fialas/MSF © Avra Fialas/MSF

MSF states EU policies are killing people as they search for safety

Following the shipwreck of June 14 which left up to 500 people dead or missing off the coast of Greece, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) denounces EU migration policies and calls for accountability over the lives lost and for a dedicated, proactive, state-led search and rescue mechanism at sea.

“The lack of political will to ensure rescue capacity has contributed to the deadliest accident at sea recorded in the Mediterranean since 2015,” says Duccio Staderini, MSF country director for Greece and the Balkans. MSF teams providing medical and psychological care to the shipwreck survivors in Malakasa registration centre in Greece have expressed their grief and outrage about the loss of life.

“How many more times must we repeat this tragedy?” asks Staderini, “The hundreds of lives lost at sea on June 14 are a direct consequence of the EU’s ‘deterrent’ migration policies that force people to take deadly routes. Rather than granting safe passage to people on the move, these policies are killing people.”

The MSF team in Malakasa has provided medical assistance to 87 survivors suffering from burns and injuries from exposure to seawater and sun, hypoglycaemic shock from lack of food, as well as psychological and emotional distress from being exposed to the threat of imminent death, from not knowing if relatives and friends on board the vessel are alive or dead, and from their experiences in Libya.

“The survivors told our teams how they called for help, waited for hours and witnessed their friends drown,” says MSF Medical Coordinator, Elise Loyens, “They also told us about the horrors that they lived through in Libya: torture, beatings, being held in the desert for days and weeks without food or water. A young Syrian man said that he wanted to die every single day he was in Libya.”

According to survivors who spoke to MSF staff, around 300 people from Pakistan were on board the vessel; only 12 are known to have survived. There were also many women and children on the lower deck of the boat; only eight children have been found alive.

One survivor described the voyage and the shipwreck to MSF staff: “I did not drink water for two days, but I cried so much I did not feel thirst. When the boat capsized, I clung onto a metal railing for my life. I could see people being thrown around, being crushed against boat parts and being slammed into the sea. Day and night, I still hear peoples’ cries and screams and the sound of their throats bubbling with seawater and suffocating as they drowned.”

Survivors of the shipwreck now begin a journey of recovery as they try to come to terms with the tragedy and process their psychological trauma. At the same time, they are receiving and having to respond to messages from distressed families trying to find out what happened to their loved ones.

While the 14 June shipwreck was the deadliest in the Mediterranean in recent years, MSF’s teams in Greece are regularly called on to provide emergency medical assistance to people who survived dangerous sea crossings.

MSF reiterates its call to the EU and its member states, including Greece, to:

  • Ensure a transparent, independent investigation and use all accountability mechanisms to scrutinize this shipwreck and similar shipwrecks that have taken place around the coasts of Europe.
  • Commit to a fundamental policy shift that puts saving lives first. The latest shipwreck needs to lead to reflection on how migration has been dealt with over recent years by the EU. For too long, the EU and its member states have implemented policies that enable death and suffering rather than ensure rescue and protection.