Migrant crisis: Almost 40 drown after boat sinks off Turkey
Turkish coast guard continues rescue efforts after vessel capsizes on its way to Greece
Almost 40 people drowned and 75 were rescued after a boat carrying migrants to Greece sank off Turkey’s western coast. File photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
Almost 40 people drowned and 75 were rescued after a boat carrying migrants to Greece sank off Turkey’s western coast on Saturday, according to local officials.
The Turkish coast guard is continuing search and rescue efforts after the 17m-boat, which was carrying at least 120 people, sank off the coast of Ayvacik, a town across from the Greek island of Lesbos.
“I am afraid the numbers will rise as divers continue the search,” Mehmet Unal Sahin, the mayor of Ayvacik, told the CNNTurk news channel.
“Local people woke up to the sound of screaming migrants and we have been carrying out rescue work since dawn.
“We have an 80km-long coast just across from Lesbos, which is very hard to keep under control.”
At least five of those who died were children, Turkish media reported, while rescued migrants were hospitalised with hypothermia symptoms.
More than one million refugees and migrants arrived in the EU last year.
Some 3,600 have died en route or gone missing, forcing the EU to consider suspending its Schengen open-borders area for up to two years.
German chancellor Angela Merkel, who opened Germany’s borders to Syrians fleeing civil war last summer, is under mounting pressure to halt the inflow.
Ms Merkel told a meeting of members of her Christian Democratic Union party on Saturday that despite efforts to help refugees, it was important to stress that they had only been given permission for a limited stay.
“We need . . . to say to people that this is a temporary residential status and we expect that once there is peace in Syria again, once Islamic State has been defeated in Iraq, that you go back to your home country.”
About 500,000 refugees from the five-year-old war in Syria travelled through Turkey before reaching the Greek islands in 2015.
Under pressure from the European Commission, Greece expects to have four of five “hot spot” centres for processing migrants operational in about two weeks, its migration minister said in an interview on Saturday.
“We are behind schedule on the installation of these hot spots,” Greece’s Yiannis Mouzalas told Austrian newspaper Der Standard.
“Four of the five will be operational from mid-February.”
Neighbouring Turkey is hosting 2.5 million Syrian refugees.
In November it struck a deal with the EU pledging to help stem the flow of migrants to Europe in return for €3 billion in financial aid and renewed talks on joining the 28-nation bloc.