At least three migrant children have died after a dinghy capsized near the coast of Turkey, according to Greek authorities.
The Hellenic coastguard said that 27 people were on board the boat as it went down near the eastern island of Chios.
The authority said that three girls and one woman had died, while another migrant remains missing and 22 others were rescued.
Greece’s migration minister Notis Mitarachi had initially reported that the four victims were all children.
“Tragically in spite of the best efforts of the Hellenic coastguard, four children – all between the ages of 3 and 14 – are confirmed dead,” Mitarachi had said on Twitter.
“This is the reality of the exploitation of migrants by criminal gangs in the Aegean — unscrupulous smugglers putting lives at risk in heavily laden unseaworthy dinghies off Chios.”
The Greek minister also accused Turkey of failing to observe the terms of a 2016 migration agreement with the European Union.
“The Turkish authorities must do more to prevent exploitation by criminal gangs at source,” Mitarachi added. “These journeys should never be allowed to happen.”
Ankara has retaliated that the EU has been slow to deliver on promises of financial support.
After Tuesday’s sinking, a rescue helicopter and two coast guard vessels as well as nearby private boats were taking part in the rescue operation.
The Hellenic Coastguard confirmed in a statement that 14 men, 7 women, and one child had been rescued from the dinghy.
None of the four victims were wearing “personal life jackets”, they added.
“The boat in question had started from the Turkish coast loaded with a large number of passengers,” the authority said.
“This fact in combination with the adverse weather conditions led to … semi-sinking,” it added.
“All the rescued foreigners who are in good health were transported to the port of Chios.”
According to the UN Refugee Agency, more than 2,500 people have crossed the Aegean Sea to Greece from neighbouring Turkey this year. In 2020, 9,700 made the same crossing, while more than 100 others died or remain missing.
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