At least 33 migrants, including children, drowned and about 75 were rescued after a boat transporting them to the Greek island of Lesbos sank off Turkey’s western coast Saturday, Turkish officials said.
The Turkish coast guard said in a statement that nine victims were trapped inside the capsized craft as patrol boats picked up 75 survivors and continued to search for others.
A private Turkish news agency, Dogan, reported that at least five of those who died were children, while rescued migrants were hospitalized for hypothermia.
Dogan reported that the migrants were of Syrian, Afghan and Myanmar origin.
Suspect smuggler arrested
Police arrested a Turkish man suspected of being the smuggler who organized Saturday’s disastrous sea crossing.
He told Reuters news agency that he was on the boat but denied any wrongdoing.
“I didn’t do it. I swear I didn’t do it. I had six relatives on that boat,” he said. “I had six relatives and I don’t even know whether they are dead or alive. I was also on that boat.” he said. “I swear I didn’t do anything. I came here to go Germany.”
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that deaths of refugees and migrants crossing the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece were “increasing at an alarming rate.”
According to IOM estimates, 218 people had died this year by Friday on that eastern Mediterranean route and 26 others died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea on the traditionally more deadly route between Libya and Italy.
The winter cold and rough water conditions have not stopped the human wave of migrants seeking refuge in Europe.
Turkey struck a deal with the European Union last November to slow the flow of migrants in return for more than $3 billion in financial assistance.
Many of the migrants, looking for a better life, are escaping war and poverty in Middle Eastern and African countries.
(Despite the cold weather this month, more than 20 times the amount of people are arriving in Greece than in January of 2015, a year in which more than a million people made the dangerous journey to Europe seek asylum, January 19, 2016, Lesbos, Greece. Photo: VOA/Hamada Elrasam)