ISLAMABAD — Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Sunday declared a national day of mourning for citizens who died when the fishing trawler packed with migrants they were in sank off the Greek coast.
As many as 750 men, women and children from Syria, Egypt, the Palestinian territories and Pakistan were on board the vessel, trying to reach relatives in Europe. The Greek coast guard has defended its response to the tragedy that left more than 500 migrants presumed drowned. The vessel sank on Wednesday.
Sharif expressed his grief over the tragedy and said Monday would be observed as a day of mourning, with the national flag flying at half-staff.
He previously said that Pakistan’s embassy in Athens had identified 12 nationals who were rescued by the coast guard. There was no official information on how many Pakistanis were onboard the vessel, how many survived or how many perished.
Greek authorities have been criticized for their failure to act more quickly. They say the migrants insisted they didn’t need any help, but non-governmental organizations say they received a number of calls for help. The sinking was one of the worst disasters of its kind this year.
Meanwhile, police in Pakistan-administered Kashmir said Sunday they arrested 12 people involved in sending local youths to Libya for the onward journey to Europe.
Senior officer Khalid Chauhan said police picked up the suspects amid a crackdown on human traffickers. Police are interrogating them for their alleged roles in luring, trapping and sending locals abroad after extracting huge amounts of money from them.
Around 28 people from the Koi Ratta area in the district of Kotli have gone to Libya for onward travel to Europe, police said. Local official Chaudhry Haq Nawaz said there was still no confirmation on how many young men from the area were onboard the ill-fated boat, or how many are among the dead or missing.
He said efforts are underway to collect relatives’ DNA and the test results will be sent to Greece to help identify victims.
People have been offering their support to relatives of those presumed to have been on the boat.
Raja Sakundar, of Bindian village in Kotli, said his four nephews aged 18 to 36 remain missing.
“We were informed by the media (of the tragedy). When children are not found or die, you can understand what a parent goes through,” he said.
Raja Muhammad Majeed asked the Pakistani government to bring back his nephew, Raja Awais.
“If he is dead, bring back (the) body,” he said. “When we bury him here, his mother, sisters and others can go to his grave and offer prayers. We will be patient.”