Migrant crisis: Seven young among 34 dead in Turkey

Bodies washed ashore as over 2,500 migrants a day make perilous voyage to Greece

Turkish coast guards race against time to rescue survivors after boats carrying migrants heading to the Greek island of Lesbos sinks off the Turkish coast. Video: Reuters

 

In a stark reminder of the depth of Europe’s migrant crisis the bodies of 34 people, seven of them children, washed up on Turkey’s Aegean coast yesterday.

The latest victims were among the thousands attempting the perilous crossing to Greece despite rough seas and cold winter weather.

Each day this week more than 2,500 people, including many fleeing Syria’s civil war, have travelled by sea from Turkey to Greece, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

In all, 3,771 migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe in the past 12 months, according to the IOM – up from 3,279 recorded deaths in 2014. That made last year the deadliest on record for migrants crossing the Mediterranean. The figures showed that the deadliest month in 2015 was April, when nearly 1,250 people died.

That month, in the worst tragedy on record involving migrants crossing the Mediterranean from north Africa, an estimated 800 people died when their overcrowded vessel capsized off the coast of Libya.

Figures for the numbers crossing the Mediterranean daily this week are close to the average for December, suggesting no significant decline in the flow of refugees and other migrants since the turn of the year.

There were also reports that up to 3,000 people were sleeping outdoors in freezing conditions near the Greece-Macedonia border as they waited to be allowed cross into Macedonia.

The people found yesterday died after their boat or boats apparently capsized in choppy seas. They were found on the shoreline at two sites in western Turkey. The coast guard and police rescued 12 others from the sea and rocks in the Ayvalik district, and the coast guard said three boats and a helicopter were searching for more survivors.

“This is a crime against humanity. It is murder to send people out to sea like this,” said the governor of Ayvalik, Namik Kemal Nazli, referring to the smugglers who exploit migrants desperate to reach Europe.

The governor told the state-run Anadolu agency that the victims of the first incident were believed to be from Iraq, Algeria and Syria. There was no information on the nationalities of those who drowned in the second incident.

The latest IOM figures confirmed that increased policing on Turkey’s shores and colder weather have not deterred migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa from embarking on the dangerous journey in small, flimsy boats.

Fatalities

“We see the migrant flows are continuing through the winter and obviously the fatalities are continuing as well,” said agency spokesman Joel Millman.

About one million people are believed to have crossed or attempted to cross the Aegean in 2015, nearly five times more than in 2014.

In a deal agreed at the end of November, Turkey promised to help stem the flow of migrants to Europe in return for cash, visas and renewed talks on joining the European Union. Turkey is host to 2.2 million Syrians and has spent about $8.5 billion on feeding and housing them since the start of the civil war nearly five years ago.