Protesters rally for justice a year after Greece migrant boat disaster

By Karolina Tagaris and Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters) -Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in Athens on Friday to mark the one-year anniversary of a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants off Greece, demanding answers about the causes of the disaster and the fate of relatives.

Up to 700 migrants from Pakistan, Syria and Egypt were crammed into a fishing trawler bound for Italy from Libya. It capsized off southwestern Greece on June 14, 2023, even though the Greek coast guard had been monitoring it for hours.

Some 104 people were rescued, but only 82 bodies were recovered. The catastrophe, one of the worst Mediterranean boat disasters on record, raised searching questions about how the European Union is trying to stem flows of migrants.

"I wake up to nightmares. Even now, I swear by God, my body still hurts," said an Egyptian survivor named Mohammed. "We, thanks to God, are alive. ... Where are the rest of the bodies?"

Around 1,000 people, including survivors and activists, marched to parliament in Athens, the capital. They held up a banner depicting a collage of photographs of the missing.

"We want justice!" they chanted. "When do we want it? Now!"

Rallies were also planned for London, Paris and Berlin. In the Pakistani city of Lalamousa, victims' relatives prepared a memorial ceremony.

Survivors say the coast guard caused the ship to capsize when it tried to tow the vessel in the early hours of the morning. Authorities say the movement of migrants on board caused the overcrowded boat to tip over.

A year on, a probe by a naval court into the coast guard's role remains at a preliminary stage, frustrating survivors, relatives and rights groups. Greece's shipping minister has called for patience.

Pantelis Themelis, commander of Greece's Disaster Victim Identification unit, said 74 of the 82 dead had been identified. But many more families from Africa, the Middle East and Asia have sent DNA samples to Greece for checks to no avail.

Hasan Ali, an Athens resident from Pakistan, said his brother Fahad was among the missing, and their parents back in Pakistan would not accept that he could be dead.

"My mother and father are waiting for him," Ali said. "They say he's alive, that he's in Greece."

In a joint statement, the United Nations' refugee agency UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration called for "comprehensive and conclusive" investigations into the circumstances of the shipwreck.

"A thorough investigation is essential to secure justice for the survivors and the families of the victims and to help prevent similar tragedies in the future," they said.

Last year, 3,155 people died or went missing trying to cross the Mediterranean, while so far in 2024 the toll has reached 923, according to the organizations.

(Additional reporting by Alkis Konstantinidis; Editing by Leslie Adler)