Six children drown as refugee boats sink off Turkey
Four Afghan children and two sisters, aged four and one, die after two vessels capsize in separate incidents in Aegean.
At least six children have drowned in two separate incidents when boats carrying refugees to Greece sank off Turkey’s coast, Turkish state media has said.
A vessel carrying 55 Syrians and Afghans capsized due to bad weather off the town of Ayvacik, a main crossing point for refugees trying to reach the Greek island of Lesbos, the Anatolia news agency reported on Friday.
Turkish coastguards have so far recovered the bodies of four Afghan children, it added.
Two more children, two sisters aged four and one, drowned early on Friday when their wooden boat carrying some 20 people to the island of Kos sank because of heavy rains and stormy weather, the agency said.
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Turkey, which is hosting 2.2 million refugees from the conflict in neighbouring Syria, has become the main transit point for people fleeing war.
The European Union and Turkey have agreed in principle to a refugee action plan, which is expected to be finalised at a summit on Sunday.
The EU is planning to give Turkey financial help, as well as provide visa-free travel for Turkish nationals, in return for Ankara’s help to contain the refugee crisis.
Meanwhile, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Friday that a Turkish coastguard operation had initially appeared to have significantly decreased refugee arrivals in Greece, but added that the large influx had quickly resumed.
More than 4,700 people arrived on the Greek islands on average each day this month, but last weekend, the numbers suddenly dropped to 155 arrivals on Saturday and 336 on Sunday.
However, IOM spokesman Joel Millman said the weekend figures appeared to be a blip, with arrivals soaring since then to as high as 5,140 on Wednesday.
“We’re not prepared to say there has been a significant drop-off,” he told reporters in Geneva.
When asked what had caused the dramatic decline in arrivals over the two-day period, Millman said IOM staff both in Turkey and Greece believed the large-scale Turkish coastguard training operation “may have disrupted some of the traffic”.
Meanwhile, the Dutch government announced an agreement with municipal and provincial authorities on Friday to house thousands of people who have been granted refugee status.
The deal involves building accommodation for 14,000 refugees in the short term, with a goal to provide housing for people granted asylum by Dutch authorities so that they can move out of temporary asylum-seeker centres and free up room for the thousands of refugees coming into the Netherlands each month.
Local governments also agreed to create thousands of new emergency accommodation places for asylum seekers in the coming months in empty office blocks and other buildings.