Four migrants, three of them children, died on Tuesday after a boat in which they and 23 others were trying to cross from Turkey to Greece sank, the Greek coast guard said. While 22 people were rescued, one person is still missing.
The boat sank in strong winds off the Greek island of Chios in the Aegean Sea , a coast guard statement said. Three girls, aged three to 14, and one woman, are reported to have died.
"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, adding that none of the passengers had life jackets.
Using helicopters and ten vessels -- coast guard ships and private boats -- they were able to rescue 22 passengers, among them seven women, 14 men, and one child.
'Exploitation by criminal gangs'
The Greek migration minister, Notis Mitarakis, reacted on Twitter saying: "This is the reality of the exploitation of migrants by criminal gangs in the Aegean."
"Unscrupulous smugglers endangering lives in overcrowded, unseaworthy boats off Chios," he added, posting a picture of an inflatable dinghy at sea.
The minister also blamed Turkey for the tragedy. "The Turkish authorities must do more to prevent exploitation by criminal gangs at source. These journeys should never be allowed to happen," Mitarakis said.
Political row between Greece and Turkey
The Greek government has repeatedly accused Turkey of failing to observe the 2016 agreement with the European Union, the so-called EU-Turkey deal, under which Turkey agreed to prevent irregular crossings of migrants from Turkey to the EU.
Turkey on the other hand blames the EU for not holding up its end of the bargain, saying it has not provided as much financial support as was promised. Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees in the world, about 4 million.
Greece was the main entry point for refugees and migrants entering the European Union for a time in 2015-16. Since then, arrivals have dropped sharply, in part due to tougher policing measures, but also due to travel restrictions during the pandemic. Recently there has been a small increase of people fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, about 6,500 asylum seekers have arrived in Greece this year, most through its north-eastern land border with Turkey.
With AP, AFP, Reuters