Four people drown after boat carrying migrants sinks off Greece

One person still missing, 22 others rescued following incident near the Greek island of Chios in the Aegean Sea.

Greece is one of the main routes into the European Union for migrants and refugees crossing from Turkey in flimsy, overcrowded rubber boats [File: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters]

Four people, including three children, have drowned after a dinghy carrying them and 23 others sank while it was crossing from Turkey to Greece, according to the Greek coastguard.

The incident on Tuesday occurred off the Greek island of Chios, in the Aegean Sea. There were strong winds at the time, the coastguard said in a statement.

Twenty-two people – 14 men, seven women and one child – were rescued and one person is believed to be missing, the coastguard said. Their nationalities were not immediately made public.

“The boat in question had sailed from the Turkish coast loaded with a large number of passengers. This fact, in combination with the adverse weather conditions, led to the detachment of the hull,” the coastguard said. It noted that none of the passengers was wearing a life jacket.

Ten vessels, including coastguard patrol boats – as well as nearby fishing boats, and two helicopters assisted in the rescue operation, the coastguard said.

Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi had said earlier that four children drowned in Tuesday’s incident.

“This is the reality of the exploitation of migrants by criminal gangs in the Aegean,” Mitarachi tweeted.

“Unscrupulous smugglers endangering lives in overcrowded, non-seaworthy boats off Chios,” he added, posting a picture of an inflatable dinghy at sea.

It was not immediately clear if the vessel was the one involved in Tuesday’s incident.

Athens blames Ankara

Greece is one of the main routes into the European Union for migrants and refugees crossing from neighbouring Turkey in flimsy, overcrowded rubber boats but the number of people arriving has fallen sharply in recent years and deadly shipwrecks in its waters have become rare.

Athens has blamed Ankara for not taking sufficient action to curb smugglers who send out migrants and refugees in unsafe boats and dinghies from its shores.

In 2016, Turkey signed a deal with the EU aimed at curtailing migrant and refugee arrivals from the country into Europe in return for some incentives including financial assistance.

“The Turkish authorities must do more to prevent exploitation by criminal gangs at source. These journeys should never be allowed to happen,” Mitarachi tweeted.

Turkey, which hosts approximately four million refugees, has repeatedly called for a review of the 2016 deal, arguing the EU has failed to keep to the promises it set out in the pact.

Nearly one million people, mainly Syrian refugees, arrived in the EU in 2015 after crossing to Greek islands close to Turkey.

About 6,500 asylum seekers have arrived in Greece this year, most through its northeastern land border with Turkey, according to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies