Sunday 25 February 2018

Six children drown after dinghy sinks off coast of Turkey

Frontex staff rescue 56 people as they try to approach on a dinghy off Lesbos yesterday. Photo: AP
Frontex staff rescue 56 people as they try to approach on a dinghy off Lesbos yesterday. Photo: AP

Suzan Fraser in Ankara

Six Afghan children drowned after a rubber dinghy carrying migrants to Greece sank off Turkey's Aegean coast yesterday, the state-run news agency reported.

Five other migrants, including a 12-year-old boy, were rescued from the sea off the resort of Cesme, and were found floating in life-jackets, Anadolu Agency said. Rescuers were searching for two other migrants who were reported missing.

The Turkish coast guard recovered the bodies of the six children. Anadolu didn't report their ages, but said one of them was a baby.

The migrants were apparently hoping to make it to the island of Chios from the resort of Cesme despite bad weather. The boat sank after wooden reinforcements used to fortify the boat came apart in the sea, causing it to take in water and sink, Anadolu said.

More than 700,000 migrants have crossed into Greece this year, many fleeing conflict in Syria or Iraq. Nearly all have entered the country from Turkey, paying large fees to smuggling gangs who arrange their crossings in small, overcrowded boats. Hundreds of people have drowned this year in the Aegean Sea, including dozens of children.

Turkey has stepped up efforts to stop migrants from leaving for Greece by sea, and last week, authorities rounded up around 3,000 migrants and asylum-seekers from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria in the town of Ayvacik - north of Cesme - which is a main crossing point to the Greek island of Lesbos.

The sweep came after Turkey and EU leaders agreed to re-energise Turkey's long-stalled bid to join the 28-nation bloc and bolster their resolve to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis, although authorities wouldn't say if the detentions were directly related to the Turkish commitment to help contain the flow of migrants.

Human rights group Amnesty International criticised last week's detentions, calling them "alarming".

Meanwhile, the man running negotiations with Britain to keep it within the European Union said leaders could seal a deal in February but warned British prime minister David Cameron that a central demand to curb immigration would be asking too much.

Donald Tusk, who next week chairs the first detailed talks on the issue between the British prime minister and all his 27 peers, sent EU leaders a progress report a month after Cameron laid out four sets of reforms he wants if he is to campaign for continued EU membership in a referendum due within two years.

"We have made good progress," the European Council president said in a letter that contained few surprises. "We ... have to overcome the substantial political differences that we still have on the issue of social benefits and free movement."


After next week's summit, he added: "We should be able to prepare a concrete proposal to be finally adopted in February."

Many governments are willing to make changes to keep Britain in the Union. Tusk said the main stumbling block was Cameron's pledge to cut immigration to Britain by denying benefits to workers from other EU states for four years after they arrive.

Anti-EU campaigners said Tusk's letter showed Cameron would secure little of consequence from Brussels. But the prime minister's office said he would stick with a proposal that many leaders, especially in the EU's poorer east, say would mean illegal discrimination and denying a fundamental freedom to EU citizens.

"There is a strong will on the part of all sides to find solutions," wrote Tusk, while describing as "difficult" the demands Cameron set out in a letter on November 10.

Irish Independent

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