The crisis unfolding on Europe’s southern periphery deepened on Sunday as the Greek coastguard announced that another 11 refugees, most of them infants, had died in their desperate attempt to reach the west – their deaths adding to the ever growing toll at sea.
Pitiful images of rescue workers recovering babies from the cabin of a six-metre boat were played out off the Aegean island of Samos after a dingy capsized in stormy weather as it made the perilous crossing from Turkey. “We recovered 11 drowned bodies, 10 of which were trapped inside the boat’s cabin,” one coastguard official was quoted as saying. Four babies, two children and four women were among the dead.
The body of a girl who had fallen out of the the vessel was later washed up on the shores of the island. Fifteen other people were saved. A search and rescue operation was under way late on Sunday to try to locate two more people missing from the boat.
More than 50 people are now known to have died attempting to reach Greece in the past five days. The vast majority are described as Syrian refugees, most of them women and children braving winter storms in a bid to meet men who made the journey earlier.
More than 570,000 migrants bound for Europe have crossed Greece’s borders this year, almost all of them arriving from neighbouring Turkey in flimsy, unseaworthy dinghies. The influx of people by land and sea has become the largest movement of refugees and migrants since the second world war.
The worsening situation in Syria and tumult elsewhere in the Middle East has steadily increased the flow of people defying worsening weather to risk the treacherous voyage.
The drownings have cast an unflattering light on Europe’s immigration policies and the slow pace at which EU leaders have moved to deal with the emergency. After 22 people drowned in two separate incidents on Friday, the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, accused the continent of an “inability to defend its values” by offering a safe alternative to the dangerous sea journeys.
Tsipras will visit Lesbos, the Aegean island that has borne the brunt of the influx, with the president of the European parliament, Martin Schulz, later this week.
Arrivals on Lesbos surged to more than 125,000 in October, double the figure for August.
Aid organisations and the army of volunteers who have rushed to the Greek islands have increasingly joined the chorus of criticism, with one speaking of “an abomination against humanity”. Rescue workers who confronted the recent drownings off Lesbos have been visibly shocked. They say Greece, which is going through its worst economic crisis in modern times, is unable to deal with the influx alone.
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SOURCE: The Guardian, Helena Smith