June 29, 2023 – The international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) calls on the European Union and Greek authorities to take accountability for the decisions and policies that contributed to the June 14 shipwreck that left at least 500 people dead or missing off the coast of Greece.

The EU must implement dedicated, proactive, state-led search and rescue operations at sea following the tragedy that took the lives of hundreds of people trying to seek safety, MSF said.

“The lack of political will to ensure rescue capacity has contributed to the deadliest accident at sea recorded in the Mediterranean since 2015,” said Duccio Staderini, MSF head of mission for Greece and the Balkans. 

MSF teams providing medical and psychological care to 87 of the survivors of the shipwreck in Malakasa registration center in Greece have expressed their grief and outrage about the loss of life.  

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

MSF medical staff are providing care to survivors for burns and injuries from exposure to seawater and sun, and hypoglycemic shock from lack of food. Teams are also providing mental health support to the survivors, who are experiencing psychological and emotional distress from both what they experienced along the migration route through Libya, and the trauma of the shipwreck, including not knowing if their relatives and friends who were on board the ship survived.

“The survivors told our teams how they called for help, waited for hours, and witnessed their friends drown,” said 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, some 300 people from Pakistan were on board the vessel, but only 12 are known to have survived. There were also many children on the lower deck of the boat, but only eight children have been found alive.

“I did not drink water for two days, but I cried so much I did not feel thirst,” a survivor told MSF. “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.” 

While survivors of the shipwreck try to process this tragedy, they are responding to messages from distressed families trying to find out the fate of their loved ones. 

While this is the deadliest shipwreck in the Mediterranean in recent years, MSF’s teams in Greece regularly 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 that its investigation into the incident is transparent and independent and to commit to a fundamental policy shift that puts saving lives first. For too long, the EU and its member states have implemented policies that enable death and suffering rather than ensure rescue and protection.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) offers medical humanitarian assistance to people based solely on need, irrespective of race, religion, gender, or political affiliation. Our teams of doctors, nurses, logisticians, and other frontline workers are often among the first on the scene when peoples’ lives are upended by conflict, disease outbreaks, or natural or human-made disasters. www.doctorswithoutborders.org