More than 20 migrants die at sea during quest to reach Europe

Authorities in North Macedonia found more than 60 people inside a freight train

Medical staff transfer a survivor from an ambulance on arrival at a hospital in the northwestern Greek port town of Preveza, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020. Greece's coast guard says 12 migrants have been found dead in the Ionian Sea and 21 others have been rescued after their boat took in water and sank. Searchers are looking for more survivors. (Andriana Soldatou/ via AP)

At least 23 migrants died at sea in two separate incidents over the weekend off the coasts of Greece and Turkey.

The Greek coastguard said 12 died and 21 were rescued when the boat took on water and sank off the island of Paxos in Western Greece but warned that there were reports of 50 people were onboard. It marks the deadliest toll in months in the country’s migrant crisis.

Four merchant ships, six coast guard ships and a helicopter were involved in the search for survivors amid calm seas.

Only hours later 11 migrants died, including eight children, and eight were rescued. The boat sank off Cesme, a popular tourist resort in western Turkey opposite the Greek island of Chios.

On Saturday, authorities in North Macedonia said they had found 62 Europe-bound migrants hidden inside freight trains at the border with Greece.

Border control teams that included officers from North Macedonia, Austria and the Czech Republic found 42 migrants during a routine inspection of a freight train in the town of Gevgelija on Friday. Most were from Morocco.

Later on Friday, a team of officers discovered 20 migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Morocco and Algeria, in another freight train at the Gevgelija station.

All 62 including five children, were taken to a detention centre pending deportation to Greece

Some 74,500 migrants and refugees made their way to Greece in 2019, most of them by sea, according to the UN’s refugee agency.

Greece was at the frontline of Europe's migrant crisis in 2015 and 2016, when more than a million people reached the country, fleeing war in the Middle East and beyond. Its camps and reception centres on outlying islands facing Turkey are severely overcrowded.