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Monday, May 20, 2024  
11 Dhul-Qadah 1445  

Greece migrant sinkings leave 18 dead, dozens missing

The bodies of 16 women and a 15-year-old boy were recovered from the area

At least 18 people died, nearly all of them women, and about 30 more were still missing after two migrant boats sank in gale force winds off Greece, the coastguard said Thursday, with survivors dramatically winched to safety.

A vessel believed to be carrying around 40 people went down east of the island of Lesbos, coastguard spokesman Nikos Kokkalas told state TV ERT.

The bodies of 16 women and a 15-year-old boy were recovered from the area, close to Turkey, he said.

Divers recovered an adult male body during the afternoon, the coastguard added.

A few hours earlier, the coastguard had been alerted to a sailing boat in distress off Kythira island’s Diakofti port, south of the Peloponnese peninsula. Around 95 people had been on board.

Some survivors made it to shore and dramatic footage released by the coastguard showed them being winched up the vertical face of a cliff, some barely managing to hold on amid battering waves.

The fire service and police reported 80 asylum seekers from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan made it ashore during a major rescue operation.

Kythira mayor Stratos Harhalakis said the coastal spot was “the worst possible place on the island” for a ship to sink.

“Nobody could approach (them) by sea, it was incredibly difficult.”

There was no official toll yet from the second sinking near Kythira, but Harhalakis said he had seen five bodies.

‘Eradicate’ smugglers -

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis deplored the “tragic loss of life” and called for “much more substantial cooperation” to avoid such disasters.

“Eradicate totally the smugglers who exploit innocent people, desperate people,” he said.

The coastguard said 10 other women had been rescued in the Lesbos incident, while over a dozen people were believed to be missing.

It was difficult to get more information from the survivors as they were “utterly panicked,” spokesman Kokkalas said.

The survivors in Kythira include seven women and 18 children, a coastguard spokeswoman told AFP.

Kokkalas said their boat had been “completely destroyed.”

Both rescue operations faced adverse weather. Off Kythira, winds were as high as 102 kilometres (63 miles) per hour, the coastguard said.

Greece has seen increased migration traffic this year, and accuses Turkey of failing to enforce a 2016 agreement with the EU to keep migrants from sailing on to Europe.

‘EU must act’

Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi tweeted after the two shipwrecks that Turkey should “take immediate action to prevent all irregular departures due to harsh weather conditions”.

“Already today many lives lost in the Aegean, people are drowning in unseaworthy vessels. EU must act,” Mitarachi said.

Greece, Italy and Spain are among the countries used by people fleeing Africa and the Middle East in search of safety and better lives in the European Union.

The coastguard has said it has rescued about 1,500 people in the first eight months of the year, up from fewer than 600 last year.

Officials note that smugglers now often take the longer and more perilous route south, sailing out from Lebanon instead of Turkey to bypass patrols in the Aegean Sea and reach Italy.

In December, at least 30 people perished in three separate migrant boat sinkings in the Aegean. The precise death toll is unknown as some bodies are never recovered, or drift ashore only weeks later.

Greece has rejected persistent claims from rights groups that many more have been illegally pushed back to Turkey without being allowed to lodge asylum claims.

Over the weekend, another group of over 50 migrants whose boat ran into difficulty in the Ionian Sea refused Greek assistance for an entire day until deteriorating weather forced them to back down.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month said Greece’s “oppressive policies” against migrants were turning the Aegean into a “graveyard”.

Greece’s Mitarachi this week countered that Turkey is “violently pushing forward migrants to Greece, in violation of international law” and the EU agreement.

Southern European nations – Greece, Spain, Italy, Malta and Cyprus – expect 160,000 asylum seekers to arrive on their shores this year, Mitarachi told reporters last month.

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