AYVACIK // Turkish coastguard officials recovered the bodies of women and children washed up on a beach yesterday after another refugee boat trying to reach Europe sank, killing at least 37 people.
In scenes reminiscent of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler photographed lying dead on a Turkish beach in September, the body of a small child could be seen among those strewn along a beach near the town of Ayvacik in northwestern Canakkale province. The dead child was dressed in dark trousers and a blue top, its face covered with a small hat.
Meanwhile, a Turkish gendarme was seen lowering the body of an older child into a body bag, while another young child was found dead in the water.
A number of other children also drowned after the boat ferrying them and their families to the nearby Greek island of Lesbos sank just off the Turkish coast. Some of those aboard were from Syria, others from Afghanistan and Myanmar.
The incident came two days after 25 refugees, including 10 children, drowned off the Greek island of Samos
Yesterday, a Turkish official said its coastguard had recovered 37 bodies, including children. Earlier in the day, the Turkish coastguard said that 75 people had been rescued.
The coastguard also said it could not give an exact number of people in the boat based on the testimony of the rescued refugees, adding that the rescue operation was continuing.
“We are sad. At least 20 friends are still missing,” said a woman who was among the survivors.
The capsized boat was visible about 50 metres from the shore, where divers from the coastguard were still searching for the missing. Military police in green berets placed bodies in bags to be taken to a mortuary.
Life jackets and other refugees’ belongings were seen scattered around the beach.
The drownings continue a grisly trend that accelerated last year when nearly 4,000 people died trying to reach Europe by sea, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
The influx, which has been fuelled by Syria’s civil war, has continued throughout the winter.
During the first 28 days of this year, a further 244 refugees died at sea, with at least a dozen more dying on land, the IOM said. Turkey, which is hosting at least 2.5 million refugees from Syria’s civil war, has become the main launch pad for those fleeing war, persecution and poverty to travel to Europe.
The Turkish government struck a deal with the European Union in November to halt the outflow of refugees, in return for €3 billion (Dh12bn) in financial assistance, but the agreement has failed to check the migrant tide.
German chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday that the EU “urgently” needed to implement its side of the agreement. Her remark came as 2,000 more asylum seekers enter the Balkans on their journey to northern Europe every day,
Italy, however, has questioned how much of the money should come from the EU budget, and how much control the bloc will have over how Ankara spends the funds.
Turkey’s minister for EU affairs, Volkan Bozkir, yesterday dismissed any problems with Italy over the release of the EU money and said the funds would be released in February.
* Agence France-Presse