A boat of migrants sailing from Turkey to Greece sank, leaving at least 60 people dead, including 31 children. The overcrowded boat sank just tens of meters from Turkey’s western Aegean coast on Thursday, according to a district official.
An initial investigation surrounding the boat’s sinking has lead officials to believe the small vessel sank from overcrowding, reports NBC News.
While the boat’s destination is not yet clear, Ahmetbeyli (the Turkish town the boat departed from) is within a few kilometers from the Greek island Samos. Greece is one of the most common entry points for migrants and refugees trying to enter the European Union.
Tahsin Kurtbeyoglu, governor of the coastal district of Menderes where the boat sank, stated:
“The latest death toll we have is 60 people, including 11 men, 18 women and 31 children, including three babies.”
While Turkish media has said the death toll was so high, because the women and children were in a locked compartment in the vessel’s lower section, there is no official confirmation of this. 46 people have been rescued alive, including the boat’s Turkish captain and his assistant, both of whom have been arrested.
Most of the migrants on the boat were Palestinian nationals, although Turkish media believes that Syrians and Iraqis were also on board. Kurtbeyoglu added that the survivors of the sinking boat spoke Arabic and were of Middle Eastern origin.
According to The Chicago Tribune, 1,500 migrants died while attempting to reach European shores last year, and uprisings in Tunisia and Libya added to the numbers. With the chaos in Syria, more than 200,000 Syrians have fled, crossing into Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Turkey.
Multeci-Der, a Turkish refugee rights group based in Izmir, stated that:
“Asylum procedures must be fair, work quickly and be accessible to people. As long as this is not achieved, those people seeking asylum have no other choice than to be at the mercy of people smugglers.”
Television footage after the boat sank showed small boats and diving teams searching for survivors.