Dozens missing after refugee boat sinks off Greek islands

Survivors say 68 people were on board when a vessel that set sail from Turkey went down between Evia and Andros.

Migrants and refugees are seen on a wooden boat in the Mediterranean sea
Thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa, Asia and the Middle East and in search of safety and better lives attempt to enter the EU through Greece each year [File: Francisco Seco/AP]

Greek authorities have launched a search and rescue operation for dozens of refugees who are missing after a boat they were travelling on from Turkey overturned and sank in rough weather.

The vessel capsized overnight on Monday between the islands of Evia and Andros.

The coastguard said on Tuesday that nine people, all men, had been found on an uninhabited rocky islet in the Kafirea Straits between the two islands, which lie east of the Greek capital, Athens.

The survivors, who were picked up by a coastguard patrol boat, told authorities there had been a total of about 68 people on board the sailing boat when it sank, and that they had initially set sail from Izmir on the Turkish coast.

Authorities were initially alerted by a distress call in the early hours of Tuesday from passengers saying the boat they were on was in trouble, but they did not provide a location.

Weather in the area was particularly rough, with gale-force winds. The coastguard said a helicopter, a coastguard patrol boat and two nearby ships were participating in the search and rescue operation.

A separate search and rescue operation was also ongoing since Monday off the coast of the eastern Aegean island of Samos for eight people reported missing after an inflatable dinghy carrying refugees and migrants overturned.

Four survivors were rescued on Monday from that incident. A coastguard aircraft and patrol boat, two nearby ships and a vessel from the European Union’s border agency Frontex were participating in the search, authorities said.

The incident came after at least 27 people drowned earlier this month in two separate sinkings. In one, 18 people died when a boat that had set sail from Turkey sank off the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos, while in the other, a yacht carrying about 100 people sank in a gale, killing at least nine and leaving six missing.

The Greek coastguard has said it rescued about 1,500 people in the first eight months of this year, compared with fewer than 600 in 2021.

But deaths continue to mount as thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa, Asia and the Middle East and in search of safety and better lives continue to attempt to enter the EU via Greece and other member states.

EU countries, many of which have opened their borders to Ukrainians fleeing war, have been criticised for their double standards in dealing with the refugees from elsewhere.

Most of those attempting to enter the bloc make the short but often perilous crossing from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands in inflatable dinghies. Others attempt to circumvent Greece in overcrowded sailboats and yachts heading straight to Italy.

More than 3,000 refugees and asylum seekers died or went missing last year while trying to reach Europe via Mediterranean and Atlantic sea routes, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

The figure for 2021, a year in which Europe hardened its borders as new refugee crises flared, represented nearly twice the number of lives lost in the previous year.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies