At least 209 Pakistanis were on an overloaded boat that capsized and sank in open seas off Greece last week, according to data shared with Reuters on Thursday by a Pakistani investigative agency.
The figure of 209 is based on information provided by families who came forward to say a relative of theirs had boarded the boat heading from Libya towards Greece and were still missing, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) said.
The official death toll from the accident still stands at 82 and the number of survivors at 104, of whom 12 were Pakistanis.
“An investigation to verify this is underway,” FIA Islamabad Zone Director Rana Abdul Jabbar told Reuters.
The FIA has been tasked by the Pakistan government with handling investigations into the tragedy.
Hundreds of people from different countries are believed to have been on board the vessel, in what is seen as the worst sea disaster in years for the region.
Pakistan is yet to officially confirm how many of its citizens were on the boat, but kick-started a DNA sampling effort to help Greece identify those who died.
The data shared by the FIA showed that 181 people were from Pakistan and 28 from Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Officials gathered the DNA samples from 201 families.
Witness accounts suggested that between 400 and 750 people had crammed onto the 20- to 30 metre-long (65- to 100-foot) fishing boat which then capsized and sank early on June 14 about 50 miles (80 km) from the southern coastal town of Pylos.
The FIA said 29 suspected human smugglers had been arrested in Pakistan so far over the case.
Greece has charged nine Egyptian men over the shipwreck, the worst in the Mediterranean Sea this year, and placed them in detention pending trial. The accused deny any wrongdoing.
Among the hundreds of Pakistanis missing after the Greece boat tragedy is a 14-year-old boy from Gujrat.
Abuzar’s parents sold their only home to send him off to Europe with a dream that he would end their poverty and provide for the medical expenses of his differently-abled brother. The boy, who was a grade nine student, was headed to Italy.
His parents have not heard from him since a boat carrying 750 people, including between 300 and 400 Pakistani, capsized off the coast of the Greek peninsula of Peloponnesus. He is feared dead like many other Pakistani nationals who, reports said, were pushed into the lower deck of the boat.
Abuzar’s father drives a school van and even selling the house was not enough to cover all the expenses of the ill-fated journey. The family says they have paid Rs2 million to the agent, but Rs600,000 are yet to be paid.
“This was not an accident, he was killed,” Abuzar’s mother said. “They starved my boy to death.”
However, merely being restricted to the lower deck was not the only cruelty dealt to Pakistanis, who were the largest nationality on board. Reports also said that Pakistani citizens were deprived of food and fresh water.
The reports of hunger and thirst have also reached Abuzar’s family. They say that hearing their child might not have been given food and water for six days makes them want to turn away from eating and drinking as well
Abuzar’s aunt said that he had called home a few days before the boat tragedy and pleaded to be brought back home. Abuzar said he was afraid he would die, the aunt said.
A resident of the area told Aaj News that the family had been made grand promises by agents and Abuzar’s family was not the only one fooled in the area.
He also added that agents had been accepting advance deposits of up to Rs1 million from each family and had promised that the entire process of getting the boys to their destination would be safe and sound.
He also said that there are dozens of people from the same area still stuck in Libya, with no way of going forward or back home.