At least 12 dead in the sinking of a migrant boat (Greek Coast Guard)

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ATHENS:


At least 12 people died on Saturday when a boat loaded with asylum seekers sank in the Ionian Sea, the Greek coast guard said.

“So far, 12 bodies have been found. The search and rescue operation is continuing,” they said in a statement, adding that they had rescued more than 20 survivors.

Migrants aboard stranded rescue ship head to Spain

“Three of them are being transported by helicopter to (the nearest hospital) for emergency treatment,” the statement added.

There were no immediate details of the identity of those on board.

The boat, which was carrying around 50 people, took on water near the island of Paxi in an apparent attempt to reach Italy.

At this point, someone on board made a distress call, authorities said.

Six coast guard patrol boats and three helicopters have been engaged in the ongoing rescue effort, authorities said.

Four passing cargo ships were also helping the operation, the coast guard said.

Thousands of migrants and refugees have died in recent years as they tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea in small overloaded boats.

With Greece’s northern borders closed to migrants seeking to reach Western Europe, some attempt illegal routes to leave the country, such as mountain roads to Albania or by sailing to neighboring Italy.

Twenty-two people have died or are still missing in the sinking of migrant boats in the Mediterranean this month, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Another 73 people were rescued in separate incidents in the Aegean Sea between Friday and Saturday, the Greek coastguard added.

Greece once again became the main entry point to Europe for migrants and refugees in 2019. The United Nations refugee agency has recorded more than 55,000 arrivals by sea and more than 14,000 via the land border with Turkey.

Greece’s new conservative government is struggling to deal with hundreds of new asylum seekers from the coast of neighboring Turkey on a daily basis.

EU urged to share refugees as boat tragedies escalate

Greece’s migrant camps are mostly full beyond capacity. In response, the government tightened asylum provisions and announced plans to step up border patrols and build larger, closed camps to detain thousands of migrants before returning them to Turkey.


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