Seven drowning fatalities in latest tragedy involving migrant smuggling craft in eastern Aegean

Friday, 27 September 2019 14:36
UPD:15:04
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Seven people, five children and two adults, drowned early Friday morning, after a flimsy inflatable craft carrying 18 people overturned in a sea region north of the Oinouses islets, the latest fatal incident involving undocumented migrants being smuggled from Turkey to a handful of Greek isles.

Friday's maritime tragedy comes as nearly 900 would-be asylum seekers landed on Greek territory over the last 24 hours, fueling concerns that a migrant/refugee crisis in the Aegean is again intensifying.

Despite a pledge by the new center-right Mitsotakis government to better patrol sea lanes separating Greek territory and the long western Turkish coastline, stricter and faster asylum procedures, as well as high-profile contacts with Turkish leadership, boats and inflatable craft carrying third country nationals continue to land by the dozens.

In a bid to reduce the strain on the islands hosting thousands of prospective asylum seekers and would-be economic migrants to Europe, especially Lesvos (Mytilene), the government this week announced that some 10,000 people would be transported to the Greek mainland to be hosted in migrant shelters.

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The incident comes days after a high-profile meeting in New York City between Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with the former bringing up the standing crisis with the latter. A week earlier, the powerful Turkish leader threatened to allow millions of refugees/migrants to freely transit from his country towards Europe, i.e. Greece, in the first stage. Erdogan is seeking more and direct financial assistance from the EU, as Turkish hosts millions of displaced Syrians.

At the same time, Turkey has emerged as a "mustering point" for third country nationals trying to illegally reach preferred destinations in western and northern Europe.

In an interview with the Washington Post this week, Mitsotakis said the majority of people now trying to sneak into Greece are not Syrians, but Afghan nationals and people from sub-Saharan Africa.

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