By Katerina Nikolopoulou
ATHENS – Dozens of families have offered to adopt a Syrian toddler who survived the “mass murder” of a migrant shipwreck in which 500 people were deliberately drowned, Greek authorities said Tuesday.
The little girl, believed to be 17 to 19 months old, survived three days in the water under the hot Mediterranean sun in the arms of a 19-year-old Syrian woman wearing a life jacket. Her parents perished.
The child’s life is no longer in danger.
Traffickers allegedly drowned the migrants – who may have included up to 100 other children – off Malta by ramming their rickety boat when they refused to move to an even smaller vessel on September 6.
“Dozens of Greeks call every day to be informed about the state of health of the child and to express their wish to adopt her,” Lena Borboudakis, deputy director of Heraklion hospital in Crete, where the child – called Massar – is being treated, told AFP.
‘Uncle’ flew from Sweden
And a Palestinian man from Syria living in Sweden, who claims to be the girl’s uncle, has travelled all the way to Crete to see the toddler, another hospital source said.
“Thanks to a photo of the little girl posted on Facebook, this man recognised his niece. He has brought family photos and told us that a brother of the child saved from the shipwreck is already staying with him in Sweden,” said Asraf Kabbara, president of the Egyptian Association in Crete.
The child protection service in Chania responsible for the girl said they were being cautious about news of a relative.
“We don’t have any contact yet with the man claiming to be the uncle. We’ll have to proceed with many verification methods, a DNA test included,” Dimitris Nikolakakis, director of the service told AFP.
The UN has called on Egypt to help bring the traffickers to justice for the drownings which it called “mass murder”.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said investigators in Italy and Greece had turned up the phone numbers of the smugglers in Gaza who are responsible for the “worst shipwreck in years”.
Syrian, Palestinian, Egyptian and Sudanese migrants had set out from Damietta in Egypt and were forced to change boats several times during the crossing towards Europe.
The traffickers, who were on a separate boat, then ordered them onto a smaller vessel.
When the migrants refused to cross to the new boat, the furious traffickers rammed their boat until it capsized.
According to IOM, children made up one fifth of the 500 passengers making the treacherous crossing to Italy.