Shipwreck Survivors Stranded by a Faltering Deal, Preethi Nallu – Iason Athanasiadis,,02/11/2016

@Photo : Called the “graveyard of life vests,” the aerial view of this site located about 45 minutes from Skala Sikamineas is a telling visual of the number of arrivals over the past year. (Iason Athanasiadis)ibidem

« As an E.U.–Turkey agreement on refugees nears collapse, Preethi Nallu and Iason Athanasiadis report from the Greek island of Lesbos on how the deal never fully stopped the deadly voyages and has left survivors of such tragedies in agonizing limbo.

Mytilini, Greece – The fishing trawler overturned just as it approached the volcanic island’s rocky bay, whose shorelines appear bottomless at night. Ramy Qudmany, a 23-year-old from Syria, heard the panic-stricken shouts of his fellow passengers: “The children are trapped under the boat.”

He swam back toward them, but his heavy clothing slowed him down. As Qudmany grappled under the overturned vessel with one outstretched arm, he felt a little girl’s hand.

Qudmany thinks the girl had probably already stopped breathing by the time he reached her. Yet he continued to swim toward the shore, holding onto a life vest with one arm, and the limp body of the girl with the other, unable to let go.

On July 12, the Syrian asylum seeker was on board one of the few boats still crossing from Izmir on the Turkish coast and the port of Mytilini on the Greek island of Lesbos. He and five others survived. A young family of four – a Syrian man named Fauz, his wife and their children, including the girl – did not.

When the Greek coast guard finally pulled them out of the water six hours later, the doctor on board the rescue mission pronounced the girl dead, with rigor mortis visibly setting in, forcing back her eyelids.

Qudmany and the rest of the survivors are among those who have made the crossing since an E.U. deal with Turkey came into effect in March. They are also among the asylum seekers who could be returned to Turkey under its terms and conditions.

The deal has slowed the stream of boats across this 6-mile (10km) stretch of the Aegean Sea – known for its menacing tides – to a relative trickle. Yet the crossings never completely stopped. Hundreds continue to arrive every week and people are still dying en route.

Meanwhile, the agreement has left survivors of such tragedies stranded in agonizing limbo. The predictions of critics who warned that the en masse returns under the agreement would be almost impossible to implement are now coming true. With tensions growing between Turkey and Europe, the deal itself is teetering toward collapse. »   (…)


@Photo : Cimetière des bateaux, Lampedusa, 2014, Stéphanie Bonnefille