Afghan refugee raises funds for memorial to migrants killed in Greek island tragedy

Dozens of people were killed in two shipwrecks despite islanders' rescue efforts

Islanders on the Greek island of Kythira pull survivors to safety after a migrant boat sank last October.

Islanders on the Greek island of Kythira pull survivors to safety after a migrant boat sank last October.
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An Afghan refugee has raised more than €7,000 to commemorate dozens of migrants who died in two shipwrecks near Greece a year ago.

Sultana Sediqi, an Afghan refugee who now lives in Germany, set up a crowdfunding page after losing her uncle in one of the tragedies.

He was among 15 people killed when a boat believed to have been carrying up to 100 people sank off the island of Kythera, south of the Peloponnese peninsula, after it crashed into rocks during a storm last October.

Eighty people were saved by islanders who joined forces in a major rescue operation.

On the same night, a second ship, carrying 40 migrants, sank near Lesbos, killing 16 women and a child.

In dramatic scenes in Kythera, residents threw ropes over a cliff edge to pull survivors to safety.

Ms Sediqi and other relatives of those who died used the fund-raising money to return to the island this week to pay tribute to the islanders' bravery and to remember their loved ones.

“October 5, 2022, remains an indelible date. That night, two boats capsized off the Greek coast, one of them right off the island of Kythera,” she said.

“The people on the boats were fleeing war and terror – filled with dreams and a longing for a better, safer future. The boat crashed into rocks very close to the port of Kythera. The waves were high. My family was directly affected: my uncle died and my aunt survived.

“Many residents of the island came and tried to save the people using all possible means. With their efforts they saved 80 people's lives. At least 15 people still lost their lives that night.

“During this time of shock and loss, we got to know survivors and relatives. Few of the dead have been found, identified and buried; other loved ones are still missing. We – some of the survivors and relatives – have remained in contact since.

“We wanted to come together one year after the tragedy to mourn, to commemorate and to keep alive the memory of the people who died at sea with a Memorial.

“We come to thank those who did everything to save lives. We also come with anger at the European borders that killed them, with the desire to build a different future in solidarity and without borders.

“Supporting this Memorial and the people also means standing up against the EU's killing policies and sending a signal that we will not forget and will not stop fighting for a better future for everyone.”

At the time the coastguard said the vessel that sank off Kythera had been “completely destroyed” after crashing into rocks.

The boat went down beneath a huge vertical cliff. The survivors, who were mainly from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, were hauled to safety with ropes and a construction crane in a frantic predawn operation.

“We could see the boat smashing against the rocks and people climbing up those rocks to try to save themselves. It was an unbelievable sight,” resident Martha Stathaki said at the time.

“All the residents went down to the harbour to try to help.”

Kythera is about 400km west of Turkey and is part of a route increasingly used by people smugglers to bypass Greece to head for Italy.

Updated: October 07, 2023, 12:08 PM