Sixteen migrants, including two children, have died attempting to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece by boat on Sunday, April 24th, according to reports by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The vessel, allegedly a smuggler’s boat, capsized on Sunday night while trying to reach the Greek island of Lesbos. Two women, one of which was pregnant, survived the incident. The survivors were from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon, while the origins of the remaining passengers aboard the vessel have yet to be confirmed.
Of the 16 fatalities of the incident, seven bodies were recovered in Turkish waters by the Turkish Coastguard, including six men and a child; while Greek authorities located the bodies of nine victims in the waters near Lesbos, which included six women, two men, and a child.
According to UNHCR information obtained from the survivors, approximately 25 people had been on board the boat before it capsized. Searches continued last week by Greek authorities and Frontex – the European Border and Coast Guard Agency – to locate those who were thought to be missing.
The island of Lesbos, like many of Greece’s Aegean Sea islands, has served as a common transit point for thousands of migrants travelling across what is often labelled the ‘Eastern Mediterranean Route’ – the passage from Turkey to Greece across the Aegean Sea – throughout the refugee crisis. The incident of April 24th constitutes the second boat incident this year between Turkey and Greece, as 11 people were found dead in March after a boat carrying migrants capsized near Turkey’s Western coastal town of Kusadasi, according to reports.
As told by Reuters, the UNHCR Representative for Greece Philippe Leclerc said in a statement that the last year has seen a fall in the number of migrants crossing the Aegean Sea to Greece. Such a reduction in the flow of migrants across this Eastern route occurs in light of the recent deal that was signed between the European Union and Turkey in March 2016. The agreement was designed to shut down the Aegean Sea as a viable route for migrants to be smuggled into Europe, by deporting those migrants who arrived in Greece back to Turkey.
However, despite the reduction in the number of migrants crossing to Greece, Leclerc also noted in his statement that the death of the 16 migrants remains a poignant reminder that the risk and potential for loss-of-life faced by migrants undertaking dangerous sea crossings are still very significant.
Recent figures obtained from the International Organisation for Migration indicate that over 1,000 migrants have reportedly died while making the journey across the Mediterranean Sea towards Europe so far this year, between January 1st and April 23rd, 2017. Thirty-seven of those fatalities have occurred across the Eastern Mediterranean Route.
The tragic incident of April 24th is representative of what has uncomfortably become an all-too-familiar occurrence amidst the refugee crisis. Images of boats packed with desperate migrants and refugees, and tragic tales in which these vessels come into trouble at sea, have become a common element of reporting on said crisis. Yet, the central issue of an enduring human struggle for security persists. As such, the loss of sixteen valuable lives should serve as an urgent reminder to the international community that more must be done to ensure the safety and security of those who are either forced or compelled to flee towards Europe amidst conflict, injustice, and insecurity.