Fifteen children, including four babies, were among 34 people who drowned Sunday when the overcrowded boat on which they were travelling from Turkey to Greece capsized in the Aegean Sea.
It is believed to be the largest recorded death toll from any single accident in Greek waters since the migrant crisis began.
Eight victims were found trapped in the hold after the wooden vessel sank off the Turkish coast. Another 68 migrants were pulled from the sea and 29 managed to swim to the nearest beach.
Violent storms and high winds swept across the Mediterranean over the weekend, worsening the already treacherous conditions for thousands of Syrian refugees trying to make the trek to Europe by boat and on foot.
“The wind is picking up and the waves are getting higher,” said Save the Children’s Kate O’Sullivan from the Greek island of Lesbos. “Today we saw boat after boat after boat come in and every last person was freezing.”
Most refugees and migrants cross Turkey to Greece in rubber dinghies, usually in groups of 40 to 50. The sinking of a wooden boat could signal that traffickers on the Turkish side are trying to move larger numbers of people.
Wooden vessels can carry more passengers, but also capsize easily when overcrowded, and are especially perilous for those forced to travel below in the stifling holds.
In April 800 people drowned after just such a craft capsized and sank off Italy.
“The crossing between Greece and Turkey is much shorter than from Libya to Italy, but it is now becoming very treacherous,” Ms O’Sullivan said. “The lifejackets they are wearing are next to nothing. There must be a safer route opened up for these children.”
An emergency evacuation was carried out on Lesbos last week, but already the camps and public parks are filling up again, say witnesses.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, called on Athens to do more to protect its borders, but Vassiliki Thanou, Greece’s interior minister, rejected any criticism of his country’s handling of the crisis.
SOURCE: Andrea Vogt