A shipwreck in the Aegean, off the Greek island of Leros, has left at least five migrants dead, four of whom were children. Between 36 and 41 migrants were rescued, said the Greek coast guard.
The migrant boat sank on Sunday, February 5, off the Greek island of Leros. Initially, the Greek coast guard, reported the news agency Reuters, recovered three children and the body of a woman.
On Monday morning, the German press agency dpa and the French agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that a fourth child had been picked up in the sea and had later died. Two of the children who died were reported as a five-year-old boy and another as a four-year-old girl.
These figures were confirmed by the Greek branch of the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, which tweeted on Monday morning that "[a]ccording to latest information from the Greek Coast Guard, one woman and four children have tragically died in yesterday's shipwreck off Leros."
They added that "search and rescue operation continues today, as three more persons might be missing, according to survivors."
Those on boat reportedly came from 'African countries'
In total, said AFP, two adults and six children were taken to hospital on Leros after the sinking, but medical staff were unable to save four of the children. The woman who died is thought to have been around 20 years old, according to the Greek agency ANA.
Numbers vary as to those rescued, or who made it to the island of Leros alone. Some agencies reported 36 were rescued, while the majority on Sunday wrote that 39 had been saved, and by Monday morning, AFP said those rescued could be as many as 41.
The migrants, said the Greek coast guard, had set off from Turkey. The nationality of the migrants was reported by ANA as coming from "African countries."
According to the German news agency dpa, weather conditions were windy on Sunday, with winds blowing a force six on the 12-point Beaufort scale. Three rescue ships and a helicopter were scrambled to search for any survivors, reported AFP, but their efforts were hampered by worsening weather.
Alarm raised by local fisherman
According to Greek media, the alarm was raised by a local fisherman who had seen the dead woman in the sea. The boat on which the migrants were traveling was reported as being crowded with "dozens" of migrants on board.
The Greek Minister of Shipping, Yannis Plakiotakis, said, according to AFP, that "unfortunately we are dealing yet again with blameless victims who have had their lives stolen from them by criminal people smugglers."
The UN Refugee Agency also spoke out on Twitter about the deaths, saying "[i]t is heart-wrenching that in the absence of safe pathways, refugees continue to embark on risky journeys and entrust their lives to unscrupulous smugglers."
Arrivals in Greece
Data from the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, last updated on January 29, shows that since the beginning of 2023, 1,498 migrants have entered Greece from Turkey. 1,296 of those arrived by sea, with just 202 arriving by the land route across the Evros river on the border between the two countries.
About 110 migrants were registered as arriving in Leros, which along with Lesvos, Chios, Samos and Rhodes are some of the major islands located closest to the Turkish coast.
In 2022, over 12,000 migrants arrived in Greece by sea and over 6,000 by land. There were also, according to UNHCR, 326 migrants who died while trying to cross into Greece during the course of 2022.
This year, according to the UN Migration Agency IOM's Missing Migrants project, at least seven people have lost their lives in the eastern Mediterranean so far. These figures were last updated on January 31, and do not include this latest incident.
About 54% of migrants who arrived in Greece in 2022 were men, just over 17% were women and 28.3% were children. The majority of migrants arriving in Greece in 2022 stated they were Palestinian (21.7%), while about 17.2% came from Afghanistan and 14.1% from Somalia.
About 10% of migrants arriving in Greece said they came from Syria, with Sierra Leone, Eritrea and Yemen following behind with 6.9%, and 4.2% respectively for both Eritrean and Yemeni nationals.
with AFP, dpa, Reuters, ANA