At least 24 people drowned and 11 others were missing after a boat carrying Iraqi Kurds sank off the Greek island of Samos in the Aegean Sea, close to the Turkish coast, the authorities said on Thursday.
The Italian Navy also rescued 290 migrants on Thursday and recovered six bodies from the water near a half-sunken rubber boat off Libya, en route to Italy. The navy rescued the migrants from three rubber boats. The six bodies were found near the third one, which was already sinking when the Italian vessel reached it.
More than 3,700 migrants died while trying to enter Europe via the Mediterranean Sea last year, and the latest sinkings were a reminder that the flow had not stopped in the dead of winter, despite near-freezing nighttime temperatures. Swedish and Dutch officials suggested this week that they were preparing new steps to deal with the problem.
Kelly Namia, an Athens-based representative of the International Organization for Migration, confirmed the death toll off Samos. According to accounts provided to the organization at a hospital, the wooden vessel was carrying 65 people when it sank on Wednesday night, even though it had a maximum capacity of 30.
The passengers were all Iraqi Kurds, aside from the smugglers, who were believed to be Afghans. At least one smuggler is believed to have drowned, but his body has not been located, Ms. Namia said.
The Greek Coast Guard continued to search for survivors Thursday afternoon, using vessels and a helicopter.
More than 600,000 migrants fleeing Afghanistan, Syria and other countries devastated by violence or poverty arrived in Greece from Turkey last year, often on inflatable rafts, dinghies or fragile wooden vessels like the one that capsized Wednesday night.
Earlier on Wednesday, six migrants, including a child, drowned when their vessel sank off the island of Kos, also close to Turkey.
The European Union has been increasingly critical of Athens’s handling of the migration crisis, the worst in Europe since World War II. More than a million migrants reached Europe last year, mainly through Greece.
The European Union has offered Turkey, a crucial point on the migrant trail to Europe, 3 billion euros, or nearly $3.3 billion, to help curb the flow of refugees and asylum seekers.
On Thursday, Frontex, the European Union’s border agency, reported that the share of Syrian migrants arriving in Greece has fallen in recent months. In December, 39 percent of migrants arriving in Greece declared themselves to be Syrians, down from 43 percent in November and 51 percent in October.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Sewell Chan