14 migrants drown as boat sinks off Turkey
At least 14 migrants, including seven children, drowned yesterday when their flimsy boat sank off Turkey’s Aegean coast while trying to reach Greece, the latest fatalities in Europe’s refugee crisis. The Turkish coastguard recovered the bodies from the wooden boat which was heading from the western province of Canakkale to the Greek island of Lesbos, the Dogan news agency said. “This morning another 14 refugees died... Must there be another Aylan for the world to wake up. Humanity is watching from the sidelines,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He was referring to three-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi, whose body was pictured washed up on a Turkish beach in September in harrowing images that shocked the world, pressuring European leaders to step up their response to the crisis. Dogan reported that 27 people were rescued in the Aegean yesterday, among them a pregnant woman, and the survivors were said to be in good condition.
Coastguard workers backed by helicopters were continuing a search for those unaccounted for, Dogan said, without specifying how many might be missing. “The boat probably sank after hitting rocks. It was severely damaged and apparently started to take in water but they decided to go ahead anyway,” Canakkale governor Hamza Erkal told Anatolia news agency. “They apparently turned back after the boat took in more water but it sank before reaching the shore.” There was no immediate information on the nationalities of those on board.
Main launching point
The latest tragedy came as European leaders were due to meet African counterparts in Malta to discuss the migration crisis. There has been a sharp spike in the numbers of migrants and refugees setting out from Turkey for the European Union in search of better lives. Turkey has surpassed North Africa as the main launching point for migrants heading to Europe, and currently hosts more than 2.2 million refugees from the war in neighboring Syria.
An EU report on Turkey released on Tuesday was highly critical about the state of the rule of law and freedom of expression but praised its “humanitarian support” for the refugees and said the EU had to step up its cooperation with Ankara to tackle the crisis. Last month, the EU announced a refugee cooperation deal with Turkey including a possible three billion euros ($3.3 billion) in aid. The deal included pushing forward Turkey’s longstalled EU accession process, which has inched forward since starting in 2005, and speeding up visa liberalization for Turks travelling to the EU, but was played down by Erdogan shortly after its announcement.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said last week up to 600,000 migrants and refugees were expected to cross from Turkey to Greece and onwards over the next four months despite the onset of winter. More than 650,000 migrants and refugees, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, have reached the Greek islands so far in 2015 using the eastern Mediterranean route, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday. Of those, 512 people died. —AFP
SHARM EL-SHEIKH: A Russian flight leaves the airport in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh. —AFP