Tens of Syrian and Iraqi Kurds feared dead or missing after boat sank off Greek island

Tens of Syrian and Iraqi Kurds feared dead or missing after boat sank off Greek island
3 min read
22 December, 2021
Iraqi Kurds say they are determined to emigrate to Europe to escape political and economic hardship at home.
Tens of Iraqi Kurds went missing after a boat capsized in Greece's Aegean Sea. [Getty]

Sulaimania (Kurdistan Region of Iraq) - Tens of migrants, mostly Kurds, are feared missing or dead after a boat sank off Greece's Folegandros island early on Wednesday, according to Kurdish sources and international news agencies.

Reuters reported that the dead body of one unidentified man had been recovered, and rescuers had saved 12 asylum-seekers, most of them Iraqis and Syrians. They were taken to the nearby island of Santorini.

“Most survivors said there were originally 32 people on the boat, but one told authorities there were about 50,” Associated Press (AP) reported.  The boat is believed to have capsized due to engine failure.

Ari Jalal, President of the Summit Foundation for Refugee and Displaced Affairs (Lutka), confirmed the incident and said a search and rescue operation by Greek authorities was still underway. “We are now following up through our formal representatives in Greece,” Ari Jalal told The New Arab early on Wednesday in a phone call.

On Wednesday afternoon Jalal wrote on his official Facebook page that, according to Sheikh Hussein Hama Salih, the Lutka representative in Greece, seven Iraqis were among the 12 rescued migrants.

Ranj Peshdari, a Kurdish activist for migrant rights, told Iraqi Kurdish broadcaster Rudaw on Wednesday that “more than 70 migrants” were on the boat en route to Italy.  He added that “more than 60 [of them] were Kurds, some of whom established contacts with me on Tuesday night to tell me that their boat was leaking.”

Asos Hassan, a 28-year-old Kurdish youth from Koya town, near Erbil city, told The New Arab in a phone call: “I am waiting for the weather conditions to be milder in spring [...], then I will try to cross the Aegean Sea for the third time.” He explained that he still wants "to migrate to European Countries for a better life since here I have no hope; I have graduated from Koya University several years ago but I cannot not find any job opportunities in both the public and private sectors.”

The New Arab contacted Jotyar Adil, the official spokesperson of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and a Kurdish lawmaker but they were not immediately available to comment.

On November 24,  27 migrants drowned in the English Channel waters after their inflatable boat had sunk while trying to reach the English coast. Of the 27 victims, 16 were Iraqi Kurds. Their bodies will be repatriated to the autonomous region of Kurdistan on December 24.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis, including Kurdish youth from the northern region, are embarking on dangerous migration routes via the Aegean Sea from Turkey. They say that high unemployment rates, corruption and political instability are forcing them to leave.