More mi­grant drown­ings

Europe’s mi­gra­tion cri­sis claims an­other 46 lives in Aegean

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The death toll in Europe’s mi­gra­tion cri­sis rose Fri­day when two over­crowded smug­gling boats foundered off Greece and at least 46 peo­ple drowned — more than a third of them chil­dren — as Euro­pean of­fi­cials re­mained deeply di­vided on how to han­dle the in­flux.

More than 70 peo­ple sur­vived, and a large air and sea search-and-res­cue ef­fort was un­der­way off the east­ern islet of Kalolim­nos, the site of the worst ac­ci­dent. It was un­clear how many peo­ple were aboard the wooden sail­boat that sank there in deep wa­ter, leav­ing at least 35 dead.

Coast guard divers were due to de­scend to the sunken wreck early Satur­day, amid fears that more peo­ple had been trapped below deck.

At least 800 peo­ple have died or van­ished in the Aegean Sea since the start of 2015, as a record of more than 1 mil­lion refugees and eco­nomic mi­grants en­tered Europe. About 85 per cent of them crossed to the Greek is­lands from nearby Turkey, pay­ing large sums to smug­gling gangs for berths in un­sea­wor­thy boats.

Rights groups said the deaths high­light the need for Europe to pro­vide those des­per­ate to reach the pros­per­ous con­ti­nent’s shores with a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive to smug­gling boats.

Euro­pean pol­icy to­ward its worst im­mi­gra­tion cri­sis since World War II has di­verged wildly so far. Ger­many — where most are head­ing — has wel­comed those it con­sid­ers refugees. Other coun­tries, led by Hun­gary, have blocked or re­stricted them from en­ter­ing and re­sisted plans to share the bur­den of refugees.

“Th­ese deaths high­light both the heart­less­ness and the fu­til­ity of the grow­ing cho­rus de­mand­ing greater re­stric­tions on refugee ac­cess to Europe,” said John Dal­huisen, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s Europe and Cen­tral Asia pro­gram di­rec­tor.

“A man­age­able cri­sis has be­come a moral test that Europe is in dan­ger of fail­ing dis­mally,” he said.

The UN refugee agency said daily ar­rivals on the Greek is­lands have surged to more than 3,000 in the past two days, and it cited refugee tes­ti­mony that smug­glers have re­cently halved their rates amid de­te­ri­o­rat­ing weather con­di­tions.

“It is tragic that refugees, in­clud­ing fam­i­lies with young chil­dren, feel com­pelled to en­trust their lives to un­scrupu­lous smug­glers in view of lack of safe and le­gal ways for refugees to find pro­tec­tion,” said Philippe Le­clerc of UN­HCR Greece.

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel met Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Ah­met Davu­to­glu in Ber­lin and pledged to con­tinue to work in­ten­sively to­gether not only to stem the flow of peo­ple but to im­prove con­di­tions in camps in Turkey and to try to bring about a peace deal in Syria.

“The refugee cri­sis is not Ger­many’s cri­sis, it is not Europe’s cri­sis, it is not Turkey’s cri­sis,” Davu­to­glu said in a news con­fer­ence with Merkel. “It is a cri­sis that was born out of the cri­sis in Syria. If we co­op­er­ate, we can bring this cri­sis un­der con­trol. If we throw the is­sue at each other, solv­ing this is­sue will be­come more dif­fi­cult.”

AP PHOTO

Peo­ple check bod­ies of mi­grants that were drowned as they were try­ing to reach Greece, at a port near Izmir, Turkey, Thurs­day. About 40 mi­grants have died so far this year off Turkey’s coast while try­ing to cross into Greece, the coast guard says.

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