Refugees drown as two boats capsize off Greek islands

Authorities recover bodies of 43 people, including 17 children, after two refugee boats capsize in the Aegean.

Map of Farmakonisi and Kalolimnos in Greece
About 850,000 refugees crossed into Greece last year [File: Reuters/Yannis Behrakis]

At least 43 people, including 17 children, have drowned after two boats carrying refugees capsized in the Aegean Sea, the Greek coastguard has said.

In the first incident, the bodies of six children and two women were recovered early on Friday after a wooden boat carrying 49 people capsized off the small Greek island of Farmakonisi in eastern Aegean.

Authorities said they rescued one girl, while 40 more people safely made it to land. 


Separately, at least 35 people – 17 women, seven men and 11 children – died after another refugee sailing boat sank off the island of Kalolimnos early on Friday.

The coastguard said that 26 people had been pulled to safety and rescue operations were ongoing.

Three helicopters and patrol boats from the Greek coastguard and the European border agency Frontex were part of the rescue operations, alongside fishing vessels.

About 850,000 refugees crossed into Greece last year, paying smuggling gangs to ferry them over from Turkey in often frail boats.

On Friday, German Chancellor Merkel said that unilateral measures by European Union member states would not solve the refugee crisis, which requires a joint effort.

“Unilateral solutions, each member state for itself, will not help us. Instead we need an overall European approach,” Merkel said during a news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Merkel said earlier this week that Austria’s decision to cap the number of refugees and tighten border controls was “not helpful”.

For his part, Turkey’s Davutoglu said the country is doing its best to stem illegal migration to Europe but will keep its “open-door” policy for refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria.

In a deal struck at the end of November, Turkey promised to help stem the flow of refugees to Europe in return for cash, visas and renewed talks on joining the European Union.

Turkey hosts 2.2 million Syrians and has spent around $8.5bn on feeding and housing them since the start of the civil war nearly five years ago.

Source: Al Jazeera