ATHENS (REUTERS, AFP) - Four migrants, three of them children, drowned on Tuesday (Oct 26) after a boat in which they and 23 others were trying to cross from Turkey to Greece sank, the Greek coast guard said.
Greece is one of the main routes into the European Union for asylum-seekers crossing from Turkey in flimsy, overcrowded rubber boats. But the number of arrivals has fallen sharply in recent years and deadly shipwrecks have become rare.
The boat sank off the Greek island of Chios where strong winds were blowing, a coast guard statement said.
Twenty-two people were rescued and one person is believed to be missing, it said. Their nationalities were not immediately made public. Those rescued are in good health and were taken to Chios harbour, the coast guard said.
"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 coast guard said.
It added that the boat had set out from Turkey amid strong winds, and that none of the occupants had been given a life vest by the smugglers.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi had posted on Twitter earlier that four children had drowned. They were aged between three and 14 .
"This is the reality of the exploitation of migrants by criminal gangs in the Aegean," Mr Mitarachi wrote.
"Unscrupulous smugglers endangering lives in overcrowded, non-seaworthy boats off Chios," he added, posting a picture of an inflatable dinghy at sea, apparently the one involved in Tuesday's incident.
Ten vessels and two helicopters assisted in the rescue operation, the coast guard said.
Greece on Tuesday blamed Turkey for the tragedy, noting that Ankara should prevent smugglers from risking people's lives at sea.
"The Turkish authorities must do more to prevent exploitation by criminal gangs at source. These journeys should never be allowed to happen," Mr Mitarachi said.
According to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, more than 2,500 people have crossed the Aegean from neighbouring Turkey this year, compared to more than 9,700 in 2020.
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 north-eastern land border with Turkey, according to data by the UNHCR.