First Migrant Drownings in Aegean Since EU-Turkey Deal

Under the terms of the EU-Turkey deal, all \"irregular migrants\" arriving on the Greek islands from Turkey face being sent back.

Published: 10th April 2016 02:48 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th April 2016 02:48 AM   |  A+A-

Greece Migrants_Geor

Migrants get on a ferry at the port of Mytilini in the Greek island of Lesbos during the first day of the implementation of the deal between EU and Turkey.|AP


ATHENS: Four migrant women and a child drowned Saturday off the Greek island of Samos, the first deaths in the Aegean Sea since a controversial EU-Turkey deal to stem the flow of refugees took effect three weeks ago.

"Five people were saved but another five died, including four women and a child when their plastic boat capsized," a Greek coastguard spokeswoman told AFP.

Coastguard vessels were searching the water for four other people who had also been on board the 3.5-metre (11-foot) boat when it capsized, she said.

It is understood to be the first time people have drowned trying to reach Europe via the Aegean Sea since a deal between Brussels and Ankara to curb the migrant influx went into effect on March 20. The last time was on March 14 when eight people went missing off the island of Kos.

Among the survivors of Saturday's boat capsize was the suspected people trafficker. He was arrested, the coast guard service said in a later statement.

The child victim succumbed to injuries aboard a rescue boat from the EU border agency Frontex.

Under the terms of the EU-Turkey deal, all "irregular migrants" arriving on the Greek islands from Turkey face being sent back.

The aim is to discourage people from making the perilous Aegean crossing in flimsy boats by presenting them with the threat of deportation straight back to where they came from.

For every Syrian refugee sent back to Turkey, one Syrian is supposed to be resettled in Europe. But the deal has been sharply criticised by rights groups.

366 migrans drowned this year

According to statistics released on Friday by the International Organization of Migrants (IOM), more than 152,000 people have arrived in Greece by sea from Turkey since January 1, nearly three-quarters of whom were Syrians.

Another 366 people have drowned en route.

The number of migrants arriving at the Greek isles has dropped in recent days.

The Greek coastguard reported that April 5 was the first day without migrant or refugee arrivals by sea since last year, according to the IOM.

The fall in numbers has helped because Greece is facing an "enormous task" in identifying, housing and processing those who have already arrived, Europe Minister Nikos Xydakis told reporters at a joint press conference with six visiting European counterparts.

Italy's European Affairs Minister Sandro Gozi said his country and Albania were working closely to prevent the creation of a "new migrant route" via the Greek-Albanian border.

The EU-Turkey deal was negotiated after a series of Balkan countries closed their borders including Macedonia, which had been a key point on the trail for migrants heading to northern Europe.

"We haven't seen any specific increase of (migrant flow) through Albania," Gozi said after the meeting with his counterparts to take stock of the migrant crisis.

"But it's very important to strengthen our cooperation between Italy and Albania. We are working very closely not to find ourselves taken by surprise when we know that there is the possibility of a new route of flows."

The six visiting ministers -- from France, Malta, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Portugal -- were to leave Greece later Saturday for Turkey, which has been the main gateway for migrants heading to Europe.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, stressed the bloc's support for Greece in implementing the EU-Turkey deal.

"Greece plays a key role in resolving the migration crisis because thousands of migrants arrive first here and because of its geographical location," he said.

"Fortunately they are not facing this crisis on their own. The EU stands ready to give a hand whenever necessary. EU countries have to show solidarity."


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