ATHENS, May 5, 2014 (AFP) – At least 22 migrants including four children drowned in the Aegean Sea yesterday after a yacht and a dinghy carrying them towards Greek shores capsized, coastguard officials said.
Eighteen people were found dead on board the 10-metre yacht after it was towed to shore, the coastguard said, adding that another four bodies were recovered at sea.
Most of the migrants are believed to be from Somalia and according to reports, at least one of the women who died was pregnant. Overall, some 65 migrants were attempting to make the crossing from neighbouring Turkey when their vessels went down near the Greek island of Samos.
The accident occurred in mild weather.
The authorities have so far picked up 36 survivors, including three women and a boy, who was flown to an Athens hospital suffering from hypothermia. A search was underway for half a dozen migrants still believed to be missing, backed by two helicopters, Greek and EU coastguard patrol vessels and three fishing boats.
Four children – three boys and a girl – are among those who perished in addition to 12 women and six men, the coastguard said. The authorities did not give details of their nationalities.
A spokeswoman for the coastguard said the capsized vessels were spotted early on Monday morning by a patrol boat from the EU border agency Frontex, which alerted the Greek coastguard.
Greece is one of the main ports of entry into the European Union for people fleeing war-torn and impoverished countries in Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.
People traffickers are using Greece’s Aegean islands as a preferred route into Europe following a tightening of migration controls along its land border with Turkey. The main opposition Syriza party yesterday said border controls were responsible for the loss of life in the Aegean.
“The fencing of borders costs lives across the Mediterranean,” the radical leftist party said. “And it also costs exorbitant sums which could have been spent to receive refugees. The European budget has earmarked 4.6 billion euros ($6.4 billion) to further develop border fencing over the next six years.”
At least 19 migrants have drowned in the perilous Aegean Sea crossings since the beginning of the year. Amnesty International recently reported that 188 adults and children died or were missing in the area between August 2012 and March 2014.
Rights groups also accuse Greece of pushing back migrants intercepted in its waters.
In January, 12 women and children from war-torn Syria and Afghanistan died in January in a sinking in the Aegean. Survivors of that incident said their boat capsized while Greek coastguards were towing them back to the Turkish coast at high speed.
In its latest report, Amnesty said the “sheer volume” of push-back allegations it has received from migrants “suggests that they are routine”.