Rotation 32 - Rescue 1

EU migration policies are once again killing people as they search for safety

On June 14, a deadly shipwreck off the coast of Greece left up to 500 people dead or missing in the Mediterranean Sea. Médecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) denounces the European Union’s migration policies. MSF 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 head of mission for Greece and the Balkans. 

MSF teams providing medical and psychological care to survivors of the shipwreck in Malakasa registration centre in Greece have expressed their grief and outrage about the loss of life.

Tragedy, trauma, loss and repeat

“How many more times must we repeat this tragedy?” asks Staderini, “The hundreds of lives lost at sea on 14 June 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.

A survivor of the 14 June shipwreck “Day and night, I still hear peoples' cries and screams and the sound of their throats bubbling with seawater and suffocating as they drowned.”
MSF Emergency Support to Shipwreck survivors in Malakas

Survivors are facing psychological and emotional distress after being exposed to the threat of imminent death, not knowing if relatives and friends on board the vessel are alive or dead, on top of their painful 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.

MSF Emergency Support to Shipwreck survivors in Malakas

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.”

The survivor added, “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.”

Seeking safety meets deadly policies

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 response to shipwreck tragedy in Greece

MSF medical coordinator in Greece Elise Loyens describes MSF's emrgency response in Malaska camp following a deadly shipwreck in the Mediterranean sea. 18 June 2023.

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 scrutinise 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.