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EU issues muted response to Greek migrant shipwreck

EU issues muted response to Greek migrant shipwreck

by host

BRUSSELS — The European Commission brushed aside pressure from international organizations to launch an independent probe into the conduct of the Greek authorities in what some are calling the worst tragedy ever in the Mediterranean Sea.

Public scrutiny turned its focus on the Greek coast guard in the shipwreck last Wednesday off the coast of Pylos, Greece, which officially claimed the lives of almost 80 migrants and left 500 missing, according to the U.N.’s migration and refugee agencies.

“We take note that the [Greek] public prosecutor has started an investigation on this incident, and it is very important to ensure a thorough and transparent investigation” by allowing Greece to carry forward its own inquiry, said the EU’s home affairs spokesperson Anitta Hipper during a daily media briefing on Monday.

The Hellenic Coast Guard defended itself by saying those aboard were refusing assistance.

In a statement Friday, The United Nation’s refugee and migration agencies, UNHCR and IOM, wrote that states “have an obligation to render assistance to those in distress […] irrespective of the intentions of those onboard.”

Survivors of the tragedy claimed the local coast guard staged a dangerous maneuver to steer the overcrowded fishing vessel toward Italy, ultimately causing it to capsize.

“That would be disturbing, that’s why are calling for an independent investigation,” said Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR’s special envoy for the western and central Mediterranean, in an interview with the CNN on Friday referring to these allegations.

Greek authorities responded that the boat was steadily on a course to Italy and refused their help.

Additionally, a BBC analysis found that the vessel did not move for seven hours, further casting doubt on the Greek coast guard’s account.

The EU dispatched officials from the independent Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and its border agency Frontex to Greece to gather evidence and cooperate with the local authorities. But they emphasized that these bodies have no investigative powers.

“FRA team is on the ground in Greece to better understand the Search & Rescue challenges,” the agency said in a statement to POLITICO, adding that it will not launch a probe.

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