migrant shipwreck

Following a shipwreck, rescued migrants find shelter at a depot following a shipwreck offshore in Kalamata, Greece on June 14, 2023.

(Photo: Costas Baltas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Scores Drown in 'Devastating' Migrant Shipwreck off Greece

"No person fleeing conflict, persecution, or hunger should have to die trying to reach safety," said one U.N. official.

At least 79 migrants drowned early Wednesday when the overloaded fishing vessel in which they were attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea capsized off the southwestern coast of Greece.

Reutersreports that hundreds more people are missing and presumed drowned, while 104 others had been rescued from the sunken boat by midday. The Greek state broadcaster ERTreported that the boat was en route to Italy from Tobruk in eastern Libya.

Arguing that "Europe's borders kill," the international rescue organization Alarm Phone said on Twitter that yesterday it was "alerted by a boat in distress" that had left Libya with 750 migrants on board. According to a transcript of Alarm Phone's communications with the vessel, "the captain left on a small boat" sometime before 5:20 pm on Tuesday. The group's last contact with the vessel was at 12:46 am Wednesday.

The Hellenic Coast Guard said that Greek officers approached the boat and offered aid, but that the migrants declined and stated their desire to continue toward Italy.

"Nobody should be forced to risk such dangerous journeys in search of protection," the migrant advocacy group International Rescue Committee tweeted. "With the number of displaced people at a record high, [the European Union] must act now to expand safe routes."

Speaking in New York, United Nations Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres stressed "that every person searching for a better life needs dignity and safety."

"This is yet another example of the need for member states to come together and create orderly safe pathways for people forced to flee and for comprehensive action to save lives at sea and reduce perilous journeys," Dujarric added.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said he felt "only sadness, and anger, after another deadly tragedy at sea in the Mediterranean."

"May the victims rest in peace," he added. "May the survivors find consolation and care. May governments cooperate to increase safe pathways and work together on collective solutions to address these flows."

Media reports are calling Wednesday's "devastating" disaster the deadliest migrant shipwreck off Greece this year. The country has been on the frontlines of Europe's migration crisis since 2015, when people fleeing wars—including ones waged by European powers—hunger, and economic privation began leaving the Middle East, Asia, and Africa in massive numbers.

Greek politicians halted their election campaigns in the wake of the disaster. Kyriakos Mitsotakis—the leader of the center-right New Democracy party who is expected to resume the prime ministership after the June 25 election—tweeted that "the priority now is to save as many lives as possible."

"This new incident, however, dramatically demonstrates that migration remains a problem that requires a coherent European policy," he added.

Opposition Leader Alex Tsipras of the leftist Syriza party tweeted: "This is a human tragedy, which captures in the saddest way the hopelessness of those seeking asylum in Europe. The moment demands that we put forward humanity and stand by the survivors of the shipwreck, while intensifying every effort to locate the missing."

The U.N.'s International Office for Migration said in April that 441 migrants drowned crossing the Mediterranean in the first three months of 2023 alone, the deadliest quarter since 2017.

Human rights groups say that nearly 25,000 migrants have died in the Mediterranean since 2014. On Wednesday,

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