Migrants walk toward a bus that will take them from Kalamata port to a migrant reception facility in Malakasa, Greece, 16 June 2023. EFE/EPA/YANNIS KOLESIDIS

Families of detained Egyptians from migrant boat tragedy plead innocence

By Aya Ragheb and Isaac J. Martin

Paramedics of the Greek National Emergency Ambulance Service (EKAV) transfer a migrant to their ambulance, in Kalamata, Greece, 16 June 2023. EFE/EPA/YANNIS KOLESIDIS

Cairo, Jun 26 (EFE).- Ahmed Ezzat was in search of a better future when he boarded an overcrowded trawler to leave Egypt, his father tells Efe. Days later, the boat capsized in the Ionian Sea off the Greek coast, killing at least 81 migrants and refugees and leaving hundreds more missing, presumed dead.

Ezzat is one of nine Egyptian nationals who were arrested following the tragic sinking of the fishing boat and charged by the Greek authorities with conspiring to traffic undocumented migrants.

Although 81 people are confirmed dead, the boat was thought to be carrying around 750 men, women and children.

Ezzat’s family and those of the other men who were arrested say they are innocent and deny charges that they were part of a human trafficking ring.

In Al Khasha, a town north of Cairo, Hag Ezzat, Ahmed’s father, anxiously awaits news from his detained son.

“We are very worried, our hearts are burning, his mother and sisters are very tired and distraught over a young man who has not yet married and only aspired to have a better future,” he tells Efe over the phone.

Eight of the nine Egyptian detainees have denied all charges, with one alleging he acted as a coordinator on the boat to maintain a sense of order.

According to Greek media, the “coordinator” has said that he also paid to embark on the journey.

Efe confirmed after interviews with the families of two of the Egyptians in police custody and the family of a disappeared person that the migrants aboard the vessel had paid 140,000 Egyptian pounds ($4,523) to a person who collected the fee from their homes.

“He left Egypt for Libya a month ago, on a normal trip, and called us only once during that month to coordinate the arrival and collection of the money through a man,” Ahmed’s father adds.

Since the refugee boat sank, an incident that has become one of the worst tragedies in the Mediterranean in years, Ahmed has only called his father once.

In that conversation, he told his father that he was “fine” and that they had started “a hunger strike to put pressure on the Greek authorities to take them elsewhere.”

“My son can neither read nor write. He worked as a bricklayer, but it was not going well. He left because he was trying to have a better future to buy a flat and get married (…) The situation here is not good and that is why many young people prefer to leave,” Ezzat says of Egypt’s deep economic crisis that has seen rampant inflation and a weakened currency.

Mustafa al Gammal, another of the detainees who is also from Al Sharqia, is “completely innocent,” his relatives, who requested anonymity, tell Efe.

The 34-year-old who is “illiterate and worked in a clothing factory,” has three children and earned 4,000 Egyptian pounds a month, “which was not enough for a family or a dignified life,” his family adds.

Al Gammal left for Libya with his cousin, Mohamed Said Nagueti, 23, who remains missing.

“The whole family is in a very difficult situation and very tired. We pray that each one returns to their family because we are all poor and we have nothing to do with this case,” the family adds.


The families Efe spoke to say they have been questioned by Egyptian security forces but have received no information of their loved ones and that any news they do get is via the media.

Nour Khalil, director of the NGO Refugees Platform in Egypt, says that the detainees have state defense lawyers in Greece.

“The Greek authorities did not allow any of them to communicate with their families,” Khalil tells Efe.

According to the activist, the Egyptian embassy in Greece has not contacted or supported those who were rescued nor the relatives of the victims or of those who remain missing.

“Greek authorities asked the Egyptian authorities to take DNA samples from the relatives to send them to Greece. They started to do it a few days later. It will take more than a week to send and they will do so in a diplomatic pouch,” Khalil adds.

He denounced that so far Egyptian authorities have been “slow” and all they have done is “call the families to question them and not to give them information.” EFE