Monday 26 February 2018

Greek premier condemns EU as more migrants die in the Mediterranean

Volunteers and local residents help refugees and migrants disembark from a small boat in Lesbos. (AP)
Volunteers and local residents help refugees and migrants disembark from a small boat in Lesbos. (AP)
Alexis Tsipras lashed out at Europe's "inability to defend its values"

Greece's prime minister has lashed out at European "ineptness" in handling the continent's massive immigration crisis after 31 more people - many of them children - drowned in shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea.

Greece's Merchant Marine Ministry said 19 people died and 138 were rescued near the eastern island of Kalymnos, in one of the worst accidents in Greek waters since hundreds of thousands starting fleeing the war in Syria. Eight of the victims were children and three were babies.

At least three more people - a woman, a child and a baby - died when another migrant boat sank off the nearby Greek island of Rhodes, and three more are missing. On the islet of Agathonissi, a fisherman recovered the body of a boy missing from another accident on Wednesday.

The death toll in the Aegean over the past three days has now reached at least 50. On the Turkish side, four children drowned and two others are missing after two accidents involving boats en route to the Greek islands of Lesbos and Samos.

Nearly 600 people have been rescued by the Greek coastguard in the past 24 hours, while thousands more made it safely from Turkey to Greece's south-eastern islands.

Meanwhile Spanish rescuers found the bodies of four migrants and are searching for 35 missing from a boat that ran into trouble trying to reach Spain from Morocco.

Greece is the main point of entry for people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa and seeking a better life in Europe, after a sea route from Libya to Italy became too dangerous. Well over half a million people - mainly Syrians and Afghans - have arrived so far this year from the nearby Turkish coast, as European governments weigh taking tougher measures to try to limit the number of arrivals in Europe.

The influx has overwhelmed authorities in financially struggling Greece.

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras accused Europe of an "inability to defend its (humanitarian) values" by providing a safe alternative to the dangerous sea journeys.

"I want to express ... my endless grief at the dozens of deaths and the human tragedy playing out in our seas," he told parliament. "The waves of the Aegean are not just washing up dead refugees, dead children, but (also) the very civilisation of Europe."

Mr Tsipras accused Western countries of shedding "crocodile tears" over children dying in the Aegean but doing little for those who make it across.

"What about the tens of thousands of living children, who are cramming the roads of migration?" he said.

He blamed the migrant flows on Western military interventions in the Middle East, which he said furthered geopolitical interests rather than democracy.

"And now, those who sowed winds are reaping whirlwinds, but these mainly afflict reception countries," he added.

"I feel ashamed of Europe's inability to effectively address this human drama, and of the level of debate ... where everyone tries to shift responsibility to someone else."

Four coastguard patrol vessels, a helicopter and three fishing boats helped rescue the survivors off Kalymnos and nobody was listed as missing, the Merchant Marine Ministry said. The accident occurred when the wooden boat in which the migrants had left from Turkey took on water and sank in moderately strong winds.

Meanwhile, authorities raised to 16 the number of deaths from another smuggling ship disaster on Wednesday off the island of Lesbos. They said 274 people have been rescued, while one remains missing.

In Spain, the Marine Rescue service said 15 migrants were found alive on the boat in the Mediterranean Sea, south of the Spanish port of Malaga, and four bodies were recovered. Some 35 people are still missing.

Press Association

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