19 feared dead after people smuggler’s boat capsizes off Greek islands
Posted by clandestina on 11 July 2015
Up to 19 people are feared to have drowned trying to reach Greece from Turkey, in the deadliest Mediterranean shipwreck since May.
A people smuggler’s boat carrying up to 40 passengers capsized on Tuesday morning between the small Greek islands of Agathonisi and Farmakonisi, 10 miles from the Turkish coast. One passenger has been confirmed dead and 21 have been rescued, leaving as many as 18 still missing. “We don’t know their nationalities,” said Stella Nanou, a UN refugee agency spokeswoman.
The shipwreck is the first major tragedy in the Mediterranean for over a month, due in part to an increase in European search-and-rescue operations in the sea’s central region. But rescue missions remain limited in the eastern Mediterranean, where this year’s migration levels have eclipsed even the record numbers of arrivals to Italy, raising the likelihood of boat disasters.
In the first half of 2015, more than 68,000 migrants – mainly Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi refugees – have risked the short trip from Turkey to the Greek islands, double the total number of arrivals in 201 4.
The influx has overwhelmed Greek institutions, which are already unable to cope with the country’s catastrophic financial crisis.
“Our island can’t handle that many people coming over,” said Thanassis Andreotis, the president of a coastal village in Lesvos, the island that has received the most migrant arrivals so far in 2015. “There’s no way to take care of them.” In the absence of government capacity, some of Andreotis’s fellow islanders have paid from their own pocket to build makeshift shelters.
The journey the migrants make from Turkey is less arduous than that from Libya to Italy – but is still highly dangerous. Most travel in overcrowded inflatable dinghies that have just one air pocket, making deflation more likely.
“Psychologically that was the hardest part of my journey so far,” said Wajuih, a Syrian photographer who risked the boat trip to Greece earlier this year and subsequently walked to central Europe. “I’ve never been in such a small boat. And if the boat had flooded we would have been in the water and it would have been a disaster. There were six kids with us and about nine women.”
But more and more Syrians are risking the journey to Greece, in part because that to Italy from Libya has become harder and riskier. The Libyan civil war has made travel within its borders more dangerous. Meanwhile, Libya’s neighbours, Egypt and Algeria, have made it more difficult to travel through their territory to reach Libyan soil.
A UN refugee agency spokeswoman, Laura Padoan, said: “It’s just a short distance between Greece and Turkey but it is still very dangerous. What we need are safe legal routes to Europe, so that people don’t die in the process of getting here. Greece is facing a financial crisis and there is now a growing humanitarian crisis – and it can’t be left to Greece to deal with on its own. There needs to be a Europe-wide response.
“The vast majority of people arriving here are not economic migrants, they are refugees. Over 60% of those arriving in Greece are from Syria.”