At least 16 migrants, including four children, died when a boat carrying about 20 people capsized overnight in the Aegean Sea, Greek police said Saturday.
According to Reuters, the boat was ferrying migrants from Turkey to Greece. Police recovered eight more bodies after the corpses of a man, a woman and four children surfaced off the island of Agathonissi, close to the Turkish coast.
Saturday’s incident was thought to be the highest death toll of migrants trying to reach outlying Greek islands for months. Greek authorities said they believed there were 22 people on the boat. Greek coast guard vessels assisted by helicopters were searching for survivors and the nationality of the victims was not immediately known.
“We can’t tolerate (losing) children in the Aegean Sea ... the solution is to protect people, to implement safe procedures and safe routes for migrants and refugees, to hit the human trafficking circuits,” Greek migration minister Dimitris Vitsas said in a press release.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants arrived in Greece and further west in 2015 from Turkey, making the short but precarious crossing. Hundreds died in the attempt. However, the numbers have diminished following an agreement between Turkey and the European Union in 2016.
Under that agreement, anyone who arrives on Greek islands must be returned to Turkey unless they qualify for asylum. But procedures can take several months, leading to overcrowded conditions on the islands. The agreement has been criticized by humanitarian workers as it stipulates that all the arrivals will be sent back to Turkey including Syrian refugees. Greece is also detaining thousands of migrants in overcrowded squalid camps.
Sources also said that in a separate incident in northern Greece, two more migrants were killed and seven more were injured on Saturday, when their driver lost control of a vehicle during a car chase with the police.