Hundreds of refugees and migrants feared dead and missing in worst sea tragedy off Greece in recent years – IOM and UNHCR call for coordinated action and safe pathways

IOM and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency are deeply shocked and saddened at the loss of life near Pylos in southern Greece, after a boat sank this morning, reportedly carrying hundreds of people.

A large rescue operation was launched this morning by the Greek authorities, who have rescued 104 people. Seventy-nine bodies have so far been retrieved, but the death toll is likely to rise. Initial information indicates that the boat had departed from Libya and was reportedly in distress since yesterday morning.

“We are witnessing one of the biggest tragedies in the Mediterranean and the numbers announced by the authorities are devastating. This situation reinforces the urgency for concrete, comprehensive action from States to save lives at sea and reduce perilous journeys by expanding safe and regular pathways to migration”, said Gianluca Rocco, IOM Greece Chief of Mission. 

“Each life lost is a tragedy”, said Maria Clara Martin, UNHCR Representative in Greece. “We are profoundly saddened by the heart-breaking loss of so many lives. Our thoughts are with the survivors and with the relatives of those who have died. Such deaths can be avoided by creating more safe pathways for people forced to flee conflict and persecution. Nobody should have to resort to life-endangering journeys when fleeing for their lives.”  

A UNHCR team is on their way to Kalamata town, where survivors have been taken, in order to assess the needs and support the survivors and the receiving authorities. UNHCR has already provided non-food items to the Hellenic Coast Guard to assist the survivors of the shipwreck.

At the request of local hospitals, IOM will provide interpretation services for the survivors that have been transferred there, accompanied by an IOM staff member. IOM and UNHCR stand ready to provide further support as this tragedy continues to unfold.

IOM’s Missing Migrants Project has documented at least 26,924 deaths in the Mediterranean since 2014. On the Eastern Mediterranean route 2,292 people have lost their lives during the same period, trying to reach Europe.

IOM and UNHCR call on States to cooperate to increase safe pathways and ensure coordinated search and rescue at sea, while working together on finding collective solutions, to avoid the needless loss of more lives.