Seventeen children are among at least 43 people reported drowned in the last 24 hours after two separate boats capsized while carrying refugees between Turkey and Greece in the Aegean Sea.
According to the Associated Press:
In the first sinking Friday in the eastern Aegean Sea, a wooden boat carrying 49 people foundered off the small Greek islet of Farmakonissi. Forty people managed to make it to shore, while authorities rescued one girl and recovered eight bodies from the sea — six children and two women, the coast guard said.
A few hours later, a wooden sailboat carrying an undetermined number of people sank off the islet of Kalolimnos, south of Farmakonissi. The coast guard rescued 22 men and four women, and recovered 34 bodies — those of 16 women, seven men and 11 children.
Citing the testimony of survivors and statement from coastguard officials, Reuters reports that dozens were on board the wooden sailboat which went down off Kalolimnos.
"They weren't wearing life jackets, I don't understand. They couldn't swim," Michalis, a local fisherman, told Reuters. Michalis said he helped rescue three migrants but one of them, a 50-year old man, ultimately died in his small fishing boat. "The hospital is now full of dead people," he said.
Though more than two dozen people were reportedly rescued during the operation that lasted hours, the exact number of people who perished remains uncertain. Estimates indicate there were between 70-100 people on board.
"Eight bodies have been recovered and 26 have been rescued and taken to the island," an official of the Greek coast guard said, referring to one boat that capsized near the Greek island of Kalolimnos.
"They were on a wooden boat. We do not yet have a clear picture of how many were on board," the official added.
Following Friday's news, Kate O'Sullivan, a member of the Save the Children charity team on the island of Lesbos, expressed horror and urged the EU to step up its efforts to "secure safe, legal passage" for those fleeing their poverty-stricken and war-torn homelands.
"Instead of focusing on building fences and tightening border controls," O'Sullivan told the AP, "we are calling on European leaders to take action to ensure no more children lose their lives senselessly."
As it released its latest figures on Friday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said this month has become the deadliest January on record for migrants and refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Deaths in the past 24 hours, the group reported, bring the total to at least 113 people who have died in the first three weeks of this year. That figure is more than the past two Januaries combined, when 94 deaths were recorded—12 in January 2014 and 82 in 2015.
As thousands upon thousands continue to make the perilous and dangerous crossing each month, the IOM said the 95 deaths recorded in the waters between Turkey and Greece bring to 900 the number of men, women and children who have died on the so-called Eastern Mediterranean route since the beginning of 2015.