The Greece Boat Tragedy & International Law

The Greece Boat Tragedy & International Law
The recent boat tragedy off the coast of Greece, where hundreds of Pakistanis are feared dead, has raised serious concerns about the treatment of migrants and the adherence to international law. A report by a UK newspaper sheds light on the harrowing experiences faced by Pakistani nationals on the ill-fated boat.  A deep analysis of international law is needed as such, and there is a need to discuss the steps that the Pakistani government and community can take in response to this tragic incident.

The boat tragedy off the coast of Greece involved a fishing trawler carrying a large number of migrants, including Pakistanis, who were attempting to reach Europe. According to reports, the boat began drifting in the sea after its engine failed, leaving the passengers stranded and at the mercy of the elements. Witness accounts suggest that between 400 and 750 people were packed onto the overcrowded vessel, including women and children. Disturbingly, the crew of the boat allegedly forced Pakistani nationals to stay below deck, condemning them to the most dangerous part of the trawler where their chances of survival were minimal. Reports indicate that women and children were locked up in the hold of the ship under the pretence of protection, and they were maltreated when they sought fresh water or tried to escape.

The situation on the boat rapidly deteriorated, and even before it sank, six deaths had already occurred due to a lack of fresh water. The passengers were reportedly pleading for help from any authority they could find, emphasising the desperate circumstances they were facing. Tragically, the boat eventually capsized in the early hours of Wednesday, leading to a significant loss of life. Greek authorities initially reported 104 survivors and 78 bodies brought ashore, but the death toll is expected to rise significantly as the search and recovery efforts continue. The exact number of casualties remains uncertain, but it is feared that hundreds of people, including many Pakistani nationals, have lost their lives in this devastating tragedy.

The incident has raised questions about the role of coastguards and the alleged delay in rescue operations. While some witness accounts claim that the boat capsized due to a rope attached by coastguards, Greek officials have rejected these allegations. The accusations of neglect and abandonment by EU countries in delaying rescue efforts have also come to light, with claims that a strategy is being employed to actively slow down rescue operations. The boat tragedy off the coast of Greece is a harrowing reminder of the immense risks and dangers faced by migrants seeking a better life. It underscores the urgent need for enhanced international cooperation, adherence to human rights principles, and proactive measures to ensure the safety and protection of individuals embarking on perilous journeys.

The boat tragedy off the coast of Greece is not an isolated incident but rather a reflection of the broader global migration crisis. Over the years, countless individuals from various countries, including Pakistan, have embarked on perilous journeys in search of safety, stability, and economic opportunities. Factors such as conflict, political instability, economic hardship, and human rights abuses often drive people to undertake dangerous sea voyages, putting their lives at risk. The challenges faced by migrants are exacerbated by the lack of comprehensive and effective international mechanisms to address their needs and protect their rights. The absence of safe and legal migration pathways pushes many individuals to resort to irregular and dangerous methods of migration. This leaves them vulnerable to exploitation, human trafficking, and perilous sea crossings, as they desperately seek to escape their circumstances and find a better future for themselves and their families.

The boat tragedy in Greece brings to the forefront the importance of international law in safeguarding the rights and well-being of migrants. Several international legal instruments are applicable in this context, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). These conventions emphasize the duty of states to protect human life at sea and provide assistance to those in distress. According to the Guardian report, Pakistani nationals were subjected to maltreatment, forced to stay below deck, and denied access to basic necessities like freshwater. These actions violate fundamental human rights, including the right to life, dignity, and freedom from cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment. The crew's actions in intentionally confining women and children to the hold can be seen as an act of discrimination and gender-based violence.

The Greek authorities have a primary responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of all individuals within their jurisdiction, including migrants and refugees. They are obligated under international law to conduct prompt and effective search and rescue operations in cases of distress at sea. Reports questioning the actions of the coastguards and their alleged role in the sinking of the boat raise concerns about the adherence to these obligations. Furthermore, the allegations of delaying rescue operations and intentionally hiding from migrant boats, as highlighted by Maurice Stierl from Osnabrück University, indicate a possible breach of international legal obligations. Such actions undermine the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits the return of individuals to a place where their life or freedom would be at risk.

The Pakistani government should work closely with international organizations, such as the United Nations and International Organisation for Migration (IOM), to demand a thorough investigation into the boat tragedy and hold those responsible accountable for their actions. Pakistan can engage in diplomatic discussions with the Greek government, urging them to ensure transparency, cooperation, and compliance with international legal obligations. This includes conducting impartial investigations, providing support to survivors, and taking measures to prevent such incidents in the future.

The Pakistani government should provide legal assistance to survivors and the families of victims, helping them seek justice for the violations they endured. Collaborating with international human rights organisations can strengthen legal efforts and ensure that the voices of the affected are heard. The Pakistani community can play a vital role in raising awareness about the risks of irregular migration and the importance of safe and legal pathways. Educating potential migrants about their rights, available support mechanisms, and the dangers of human trafficking can help prevent future tragedies.

The Greece boat tragedy involving Pakistani migrants highlights the urgent need for robust adherence to international law and protection of human rights. It is essential for the Pakistani government to take decisive action, demanding accountability and justice for the victims. The international community should work together to ensure that tragedies like this are prevented through improved search and rescue operations.

The author is an undergraduate student of law at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, specializing in international law.