ATHENS – Three children and a woman drowned on Tuesday after an overcrowded boat carrying migrants from neighboring Turkey in the Aegean Sea bottomed out and plunged passengers into the water, Greek authorities said.
The Greek Coast Guard said on Tuesday afternoon that the bodies of three girls and a young woman were found off the Greek island of Chios, 22 more were rescued, and one person is still missing. Officials said none of them were wearing life jackets.
Greece is a key route for migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach Europe. But in recent years, what comes like deaths at sea have also dropped sharply. Tuesday’s incident was unusual, as the boat dispersed due to overcrowding rather than capsized as more often happens.
The Greek Coast Guard launched a search and rescue operation early Tuesday. Coast Guard ships, a NATO warship, private boats and helicopters searched the area.
“The boat in question had filled the Turkish coast with an excessive number of passengers,” the Coast Guard said in a statement. This happened along with adverse weather conditions which caused the bottom of the ship to collapse.
A Video posted on the Internet by the Greek Coast Guard It showed an empty blue boat bobbing in a choppy sea, along with images of survivors on the Greek Coast Guard ship wrapped in foil blankets.
Earlier in the day, there was confusion about the ages of the victims. Greek Immigration Minister Notis Mitarachi wrote on Twitter that four children were found dead. The Coast Guard later announced that one of the victims was a woman.
Mitarachi also accused neighboring Turkey of failing to abide by the agreement the bloc made with the European Union in 2016 at the height of its migration crisis to stop smugglers from crossing the Aegean Sea.
“These journeys should never be allowed to happen,” Mr Mitarachi wrote, and told the Turkish authorities, “unscrupulous smugglers risking their lives in heavily loaded unseaworthy boats”
Although Greece was the main gateway for nearly one million migrants who flocked to Europe in 2015 and 2016, arrivals have slowed sharply over the past two years as border policing intensified, in part due to the pandemic. Citing the change to the conservative government’s stricter immigration policies, Mitarachi said arrivals from Turkey fell by 90 percent compared to 2019. involves leaving some immigrants at sea and received fierce criticism from aid groups working with immigrants.
The number of migrants who died at sea also decreased. According to the International Organization for Migration, 19 people have died in the eastern Mediterranean this year (not including the toll for Tuesday’s incident as the search continues), while 94 people died in 2020. About 10 of the deaths occurred during crossings from Turkey to Greece, compared to about 50 last year, according to the organization’s statement. Lost Immigrants Projectdocumenting deaths and disappearances at sea.
But despite the drop in deaths, Tuesday’s crash re-focused attention on the dangers faced by migrants who continue to risk the short but dangerous sea crossing from Turkey to Greece, sparking calls for action by NGOs. “This tragedy in the Aegean further reinforces the need to protect lives and increase access to safe routes and regular migration channels,” the Greek division of the migrant organization said in a statement.
“People are faced with an impossible choice as they embark on these dangerous journeys that no one should face,” said Louise Donovan, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Greece. “But people will continue to risk their lives if they don’t have access to the safe and regulated alternatives that we continue to advocate.”