Refugee crisis: Migrants die of hypothermia and drown in icy sea crossing

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London: A five-year-old child and two women died from hypothermia on the Greek island of Lesbos on Wednesday. Twelve bodies were found on Turkey's western coast on Thursday after a boat carrying migrants bound for Greece capsized. At least eight migrants including two children drowned when another wooden capsized north of the Greek island of Kalolimnos early on Friday.

The women and child died after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey in freezing weather. They were among more than 800 refugees, many of them Syrian families, who reached Lesbos on this week aboard nearly 20 boats, battered by wind and snow as temperatures plunged below zero, International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) spokeswoman Caroline Haga​ said. Thousands of others wait in Turkey to make the same dangerous crossing.

"These needless deaths are shameful – we must establish safer ways for people to escape conflict, persecution and poverty," Karen Bjornestad​, head of the IFRC in Greece, said in a statement.

"Death should not be the result of a basic human desire to live in safety and find a future."

Thousands of refugees, mainly Syrians fleeing the war, have braved rough seas to make the short but precarious journey from Turkey to Greece's eastern islands, often in flimsy and overcrowded inflatable boats.

Despite choppy seas and wintry weather which add to the dangers of the journey, 10 to 15 boats a day are still arriving on Lesbos, the IFRC said.


Ms Haga said that on Wednesday the IFRC vehicles got stuck in snow on the way to the north part of the island where most migrants arrive.

The boat on which the child and two women who died were travelling had problems with the engine, so the journey across the Aegean Sea, which normally takes at least two hours, was longer than usual, she said.

"Normally all the boats that come are full of water because the sea is quite rough," Ms Haga said.

"They sit there for a long time and they don't have proper clothes and they're completely wet when they arrive."

IFRC staff treated other hypothermia cases and managed to save another woman's life.

Ms Haga said the nationality of the child and the women who died had not yet been determined.

Responding to a distress signal sent early on Thursday morning near Izmir, the coastguard found the 12 bodies on Turkey's west coast including at least five children according to Dogan News Agency. Twenty six people were rescued and the coastguard said a helicopter and three boats were still searching for others. It is not clear if it was this search that found eight more bodies on Friday.

All of those who died, which also included one pregnant woman, came from Iraq and had tried to sail from Aliaga in Izmir province to the Greek island of Lesbos, according to Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.

On Wednesday, Turkey's EU Minister Volkan Bozkir​ said the European Union must fulfil its promises as part of a deal struck at the end of November in which Turkey promised to help stem the flow of migrants to Europe in return for cash, visas and renewed talks on joining the European Union.

But EU officials have said Turkey's efforts to curb migration are falling short and there is a lot of work to do.

Despite authorities cracking down on illegal crossings and dangerous winter conditions, thousands are still braving the Mediterranean waves.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, more than 24,000 crossed the Mediterranean to Greece and Italy in the first two weeks of January, and its spokesman Joel Millman​ said 58 deaths had been recorded as of January 12.

The ongoing crisis prompted Slovenia to announce it will keep out all migrants except those planning to seek asylum in Austria and Germany. Slovenian Interior Minister Vesna Gyorkos Znidar​ said the country would also strengthen border controls. It comes a day after its neighbour Austria said it would restrict the entry of migrants.

"We will act in all directions so as to prevent Slovenia becoming a pocket for stranded migrants," Ms Gyorkos Znidar said.

Slovenia is the smallest country on the Balkan migration route. About 409,000 migrants have entered since October, when Hungary closed its borders and pushed the migrant route west through Slovenia.

Ms Gyorkos Znidar urged the EU to reach agreement on stopping migrants on the border between Macedonia and Greece to prevent them continuing north through the Balkans.


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