19 Feared Drowned off Greece

The body of a man was recovered and 18 others are feared drowned after a boat destined for Greece capsized about 15kms off Turkey.


Some 21 survivors told rescuers there were about 40 people on the boat when it capsized probably due to overloading.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is still trying to establish the exact details and nationalities of the victims.

If confirmed, the tragedy is the worst for months in the Mediterranean. Ever since the April 18 shipwreck, when an 850 people are believed to have drowned off Libya, Europe mounted the biggest search and rescue operation ever launched on the central Mediterranean route from Libya and the number of deaths dropped drastically.

However, the situation in Greece is different. Tough the sea crossing is not as dangerous as that between Libya and Europe, due to the shorter distances, the rescue effort there far more limited. The coastguard, like other agencies across the country, is suffering from funding shortages as a consequence of Greece’s collapsing financial situation.

The relatively short distance is also seeing migrants taking greater risks, often attempting to cross on very small inflatable boats.

However, UNHCR Greece spokesperson Stella Nanou told Migrant Report the root cause of this situation was ultimately the fact that migrants have no other choice.

“This is a refugee crisis. The people crossing to Greece are not migrants but refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and even Somalia. They are fleeing war and conflict,” she said.

“So they will take the trip on the rickety boats, they will approach the smugglers, because they do not really have any other option… certainly no legal means with which to enter Europe.”

She argued that even though the migrants are coming from a stable neighbour, the reality is that Turkey is carrying more than its fair share of refugees and this then has an impact on these country’s capacity to host people.

“There are presently some 4million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon… When you compare this to the number of refugees reaching Europe, they pale in comparison,” Nanou said.

But Greece itself is struggling with this year’s surge in the number of migrants crossing to its shores. According to UNHCR, more than 68,000 migrants had crossed from Turkey by the end of June – double last year’s figure.

Many of them do not stay in Greece, however, but keep pushing north until they can reach the north of Europe, through the Western Balkans route.