TWO boat disasters – one close to the Didim area – left more than 50 refugees, many women and children, dead this week
The first incident occurred last Sunday (Sept 13) as Syrian refugees tried to make it to the Greek islet of Farmakonisi after setting off less than 10 km (6 miles) from the Didim coastline.
A total of 34 people, several of them children, were found in the waters off Farmakonisi. Four infants, 11 children and ten women are among those who drowned.
It is understood from Greek media that the boat was a 15-metre boat tripper.
The Greek coast guard rescued 62 passengers from drowning while 34 people were able to swim to Farmakonisi on their own.
“My colleagues are finding more and more people,” a coast guard officer said, suggesting the death toll from the capsized fishing vessel would rise.
The accident occurred after the coast guard responded Saturday to the capsizing of two boats. A Super Puma helicopter immediately took off for the port of Mytilene in search of the boat. The incident was said to have been Greece’s worst maritime accident involving refugees.
“I’m devastated. There was a lady there who wanted information and told me her three children and husband were missing. She was holding a three-month old infant in her arms,” one Greek official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. “What was I supposed to tell her? That we found them? Her three children and husband are dead.”
Christos Zois, shipping minister in Greece’s caretaker government, told the state Athens News Agency he felt as if he had been “kicked in the stomach” after visiting the area.
“Another tragedy caused by the traffickers. It was a clear murder today, and Europe had to declare war on these ruthless criminals yesterday,” said George Hatzimarkos, governor of the South Aegean region.
In a second incident on Tuesday (Sept 15), at least 22 refugees, including 11 women and four children, drowned when their overcrowded wooden boat sank off Turkey’s south west coast.
Turkish coastguards revealed they had rescued 211 migrants from the boat which set off from holiday resort town of Datca overnight. TV footage showed a crowded Turkish coastguard ship carrying rescued people to the shore.
Meanwhile, four children remained missing from an incident north of the Aegean island of Samos. The coast guard was able to pluck 24 migrants from the sea in that operation.
Another 32 people were rescued when their boat went down near Lesbos. A 20-year-old refugee on that vessel has not been accounted for, state-run radio reported.
This and many similar tragedies have provoked outrage at the gangs of people-traffickers who extort money from desperate people with the promise of smuggling them across to Europe.
The International Organisation for Migration has said over 430,000 migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far in 2015, with 2,748 dying or going missing en route.
Every day thousands of refugees attempt to make the dangerous sea journey from the coast of Turkey to one of Greece’s islands.
If they make it, virtually all continue their trek north through the Balkans, across Macedonia and Serbia, hoping to enter the European Union’s border-free Schengen zone in Hungary and eventually ask for asylum in Germany and other Western states.