At least 22 people, among them thirteen children, were killed in two separate incidents in Greek waters the week of Friday, October 30th. The worst of the two involved the sinking of a wooden boat from Turkey that was carrying 300-500 passengers, according to a report issued by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Four coast guard patrol vessels, a helicopter and three fishing boats helped rescue the survivors, adding to the total of 600 people rescued in 24 hours by the Greek coast guard.
These accidents raised the death toll to almost fifty, including the three preceding days. IOM estimates 435 men, women and children have died on the Eastern Mediterranean route linking Turkey to Greece since October 6th. UNCHR says that 700 000 have successfully made the crossing this year, many of them fleeing war in Syria. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, over 110 000 civilians have been killed so far in the on-going civil war and 11 million have been forced from their homes.
Despite the huge risk to their lives, those who wish to make the crossing are prepared to pay extortionate sums of money to traffickers. UNHCR has heard reports of traffickers charging between 1,100 to 1,400 euros to make the journey on inflatable rafts in bad weather, while stronger, wooden boats cost much more. Despite the expensive tickets and worsening weather conditions, 6,635 people crossed into Greece from Turkey on October 28th and 6,637 on October 27th. A recent survey by the International Rescue Committee shows that only 8% of refugees surveyed in Turkey will return home if weather makes sea crossings impossible over the winter – the rest will continue trying. The desperate measures taken by those escaping war in their home nations does not leave much to the imagination about the level of horror they are fleeing from.
Current host countries are floundering from the sheer number of refugees. Turkey has received two million refugees, Lebanon one million and Greece half a million, among others. Deteriorating living conditions in these countries are pushing many refugees to begin another, longer journey deeper into Europe. Most aim for Germany, facing thousands of miles of walking, packed trains and poor sleeping conditions. With Germany expecting the arrival of over a million people this year alone, Europe is facing its biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. It does not, however, seem prepared to acknowledge its role in dealing with the crisis. The fact that media reports continue to use the word ‘migrants’ instead of the correct ‘refugees’ only serves to highlight Europe’s reluctance to accept the responsibility of caring for the thousands who cross into its territories each day.
Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, expressed his disappointment with how European governments are dealing with the crisis. He told the Greek parliament last Thursday that
“the waves of the Aegean are not just washing up dead refugees, dead children, but (also) the very civilization of Europe”.
He accused Europe of shedding “crocodile tears” while the Aegean Sea became a cemetery for the poor and needy. Tsipras’ government has issued a plea for assistance from its EU partners, proposing that refugees be registered in camps in Turkey and flown directly to their host countries, avoiding civilian deaths in tragic boat accidents, of which last week’s events are only one example from many.