Seven migrants including two children drown off Greece

Seven migrants including two children drown off Greece

ATHENS – The Associated Press
Seven migrants including two children drown off Greece

AP photo

Greek authorities say a total of seven bodies, including those of two children, have been recovered from the sea off the eastern Aegean island of Kos after a boat carrying migrants or refugees sank early Jan. 27.

Rescue crews recovered the bodies of three men, two women, a boy and a girl. There were two survivors - a man and a woman.

The bodies were found during a rescue operation that was launched after a survivor reported the sinking.

The man had managed to swim to an islet near Kos, where he raised the alarm, AFP reported.

A search and rescue operation in the area by vessels from the Greek coast guard and the European border patrol agency Frontex, a helicopter and Greek rescue volunteers was called off after all on board the boat were accounted for.

The tragedy comes just five days after 45 people including 20 children drowned off Kalolimnos near Kos on Jan. 22.

More than a million people headed to Europe in search of new lives last year, most of them refugees fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in the continent’s worst migration crisis since World War II.

The onset of winter does not appear to have deterred the migrants, with boats still arriving on the Greek islands from Turkey daily.

The United Nations says more than 46,000 people have arrived in Greece so far this year, 31 times more than for all of January 2015.

The EU is mulling allowing states in the passport-free Schengen zone to reintroduce border checks for up to two years to cope with the migration crisis.

Greece’s interior minister for migration Ioannis Mouzalas said such an extension would put Greece in a “difficult” situation by making it harder for new arrivals to continue on to northern Europe.

Mouzalas told Skai television on Jan, 27 that EU-supervised screening centers being set up on the Greeks islands could be used to send back ineligible migrants on chartered boats to Turkey “the next morning,” trying to seek EU backing for the swift deportation of migrants not considered eligible for asylum. 

Mouzalas conceded the government was experiencing delays with setting up the island screening centers - known as hotspots - but said Athens is seeking additional assistance with the project.

Meanwhile, the EU executive said on Jan. 27 that Greece has “seriously neglected” its frontier duties to Europe’s free-travel Schengen zone and could be subject to new border controls by other members if it fails to remedy the problems within three months. 

“The draft report concludes that Greece seriously neglected its obligations and that there are serious deficiencies in the carrying out of external border control that must be overcome ... by the Greek authorities,” European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis told a news briefing, according to Reuters. 

The Commission conclusion, discussed by commissioners at their weekly meeting on Jan. 27, is a key step towards extending temporary border controls introduced by some Schengen members on the area’s internal borders for up to two years.