Migrants shipwreck leaves 16 dead
The Greek coastguard has confirmed that five children are among 16 migrants who died after their wooden boat sank in the Aegean Sea on 17 March. The accident happened off the Greek island of Agathonisi, which is close to the Turkish coast.
There have been inconsistent reports published about the number of migrants on board. According to Reuters, 22 migrants, including women and children, are believed to have been on the boat which was on its way to the Greek island of Samos.
After the boat sank, three migrants made their way to the coast and informed the authorities, who then carried out a search and rescue operation.
The Greek coastguard service said that three aircraft and navy and coastguard vessels, as well as vessels from the EU’s border agency Frontex, took part in the search and rescue operation.
“We can’t tolerate losing children in the Aegean Sea… the solution is to protect people, to implement safe procedures and safe routes for migrants and refugees, to hit the human trafficking circuits,” Greek immigration minister Dimitris Vitsas said in a press release according to Reuters.
This is the first shipwreck to be recorded in the Aegean Sea this year. However, at least 500 migrants have died or gone missing on the route over the past two years according to the UN Refugee Agency.
The shipwreck occurred just a day before the second anniversary of a deal struck between Turkey and the EU aimed at curbing the flow of migrants from Turkey to Europe. As part of the deal, any migrant who arrives on Greek islands must be returned to Turkey unless they qualify for asylum. However, these asylum procedures can take several months, leading to severe overcrowding in many of the migrant camps on the islands.