61 refugees drown to death as boat sinks

61 refugees drown to death as boat sinks

IZMIR - Hürriyet Daily News
61 refugees drown to death as boat sinks

Search and rescue efforts continue in the region to findthe missing refugees, who were attempting to reach Europe. DHA photo

At least 61 migrants trying to reach Europe through Turkey were drowned yesterday when their boat capsized off the Aegean town of Menderes in İzmir province.

Among the dead were 18 women, 29 children and two babies, while 46 people were rescued alive, including two Turkish crew members - the captain and his mate, who were both detained for crimes of human trafficking. The 15-meter fishing boat went down after hitting rocks at around 5:30 a.m. local time close to the shore near the village of Ahmetbeyli in the province of İzmir.

Many of the migrants were able to swim to the shore that was 50 meters away from where the boat went down. The toll was so high because most of the migrants, including children and babies, were locked below decks, Anatolia news agency reported.

Boat’s captain, Burhan Yılmaz, said in his testimony that he had taken the group for a “blue voyage” (a recreational cruise along the Turkish coast).

Origins of immigrants

The survivors, who were Iraqi, Palestinian and Syrian citizens, were interrogated with the help of Kurdish-speaking security personnel. They said they stayed in hotels in İzmir’s Basmane district for a while and then contacted human traffickers to go to the United Kingdom. The traffickers then leased the boat from Istanbul and sailed to İzmir.

Menderes District Gov. Tahsin Kurtbeyoğlu said, “We have determined that the boat sank after sailing at 5:20 a.m. this morning. There are occasional illegal immigrants in this region. But we did not have a tip off about this incident. The investigation is ongoing.”

The İzmir-based Immigrant Solidarity Association president, Taner Kılıç, told CNNTürk the attempts of Syrian immigrants to pass to Greek islands had increased in the past two months. The camps that were set up in Turkey’s border regions in 2011 for Syrian immigrants were in good condition compared to other camps but still inadequate, Kılıç said, adding, “People are staying in those camps for one year. We can’t just say the circumstances are good compared to other camps because they cannot have any education; they cannot be involved in social life.”

 Migrants from Asia and Africa have long sought to reach Europe by passing through Turkey, and their desperate efforts have occasionally ended in disaster. Each year, thousands try to sail to Greek islands from Turkish soil in rickety boats.

Turkey is now hosting 80,000 Syrians who have fled the civil war in their country and are staying in camps just across the border, and some countries are concerned that larger numbers of Syrians could try to reach Europe illegally.