At least 16 migrants drown off Greek isle
April 24 2017 11:07 PM
A rescuer walks next to bodies of migrants in body bags laid on a pier at the Aegean port village of Babakale in Canakkale province, Turkey, next to a Turkish coast guard vessel, after an inflatable boat carrying them sank off the Greek island of Lesbos.


At least 16 refugees, two of them children, drowned in the Aegean Sea when their vessel capsized off the coast of Lesbos, the Greek Coastguard said yesterday.
A search was ongoing for another nine people from the boat amid fears that the death toll could rise, an official said.
Greek authorities had received no distress call prior to finding the bodies, the coastguard spokeswoman said.
Weather conditions in the area are mild.
The Greek coastguard and the EU border-management agency Frontex pulled nine bodies from the water and Turkish rescuers seven.
The bodies were found a few kilometres away from the port of Molyvos on Lesbos, the main gateway for refugees and migrants attempting to reach Europe from Turkey via Greece.
Two survivors have been rescued. 
The two women, one of whom is pregnant, told the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR that 20 to 25 people were on board when the dinghy capsized around 1900 GMT on Sunday.
The women are from Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Though fewer than 10 nautical miles separate Lesbos from Turkish shores, hundreds of people have drowned trying to make the crossing since Europe’s refugee crisis began in 2015.
In that year, Lesbos was the main gateway into the European Union for nearly a million Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans.
But a deal in March 2016 between the EU and Ankara has largely closed that route.
Just over 4,800 people have crossed to Greece from Turkey this year, according to UNHCR data.
An average of 20 arrive on Greek islands each day.
“The number of people crossing the Aegean to Greece has dropped drastically over the past year, but this tragic incident shows that the dangers and the risk of losing one’s life remains very real,” said Philippe Leclerc, UNHCR Greece representative.
More than 1mn people took the route across the Aegean in 2015 and 2016 and then moved on into western Europe through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary or Croatia and Slovenia.
Close to 1,200 people were confirmed drowned in the Aegean at the peak of the migration wave, which began to wane in March 2016 when countries on the Balkan route closed their borders to refugees and migrants.
The closure left thousands of people stranded, unable to continue either legally through an asylum procedure or illegally by sneaking across increasingly tight borders.
A group of Syrian refugees stranded on Lesbos launched a hunger strike on Friday in protest at the long asylum wait, witnesses told DPA yesterday.
The 14 Kurds from Syria, sitting wrapped in blankets in front of the asylum bureau at Moria camp on Lesbos, have been refusing nourishment since Friday.
Their application for shelter in the European Union had been rejected in the first instance, and their appeal has been taking months to process.
Police have refused to comment on the report, but protests occur regularly in Greek island camps, where 13,800 refugees are waiting for their status to be resolved under miserable conditions.
The island camps are so-called hotspots for the processing of refugees who arrived from Turkey.
The hotspots and the processing of refugees are part of a deal the EU struck with Turkey, which agreed to hold them on its soil in return for aid and benefits.
The closure of the Balkan route dramatically reduced the number of people attempting the Aegean crossing.
Yesterday’s drownings came after a longer calm spell, reflecting the dwindling number of attempts.
They are believed to be the first confirmed deaths in Greek waters this year of migrants or refugees making the short but dangerous crossing from Turkey on overcrowded rubber dinghies.
People have however continued to arrive in smaller numbers, some overland through Bulgaria.
Nearly 8,000 are presently stranded in Serbia, unable to continue through the tough Hungarian and Croatian borders.

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