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2nd Body Recovered Off Greek Island After Migrant Boat Sank

December 3, 2020

ATHENS — The body of a woman was recovered Thursday on the Greek island of Lesbos and identified as that of a woman reported missing after a migrant boat sank the previous day.

The coast guard said the body was recovered from a rocky part of the coast, bringing the death toll from the sinking to two.

Another 32 people, all from Somalia and including three children, had been rescued from the sea after the dinghy they had been traveling in from the nearby Turkish coast sank off Lesbos early Wednesday morning, Greek authorities said. 

Government spokesman Stelios Petsas accused the Turkish coast guard of refusing to help the migrants when they issued a distress call.

"It is clear that the Turkish vessel, despite the request for help, didn't help, didn't rescue the passengers of the fatal boat while they were in Turkish territorial waters," Petsas said Thursday. "On the contrary, it urged them to move forward, it carried out maneuvers against the boat so that it would continue its course toward Greek shores."

Petsas said smuggling gangs were knowingly endangering people's lives by sending them out to illegally cross the European Union's borders in unseaworthy vessels. 

"People who are not in danger on land, Turkey sends them into danger at sea, in boats that don't fulfill any safety requirements and are driven by people without permits or knowledge of the rules of the sea," he said, adding that turning a blind eye to such practices was a "usual practice" by neighboring Turkey.

Turkey's coast guard vehemently denied the allegation, saying in a statement that it dispatched a boat after the distress call but found the dinghy to be in Greek waters with a Greek coast guard boat close enough to help. 

"Due to the fact that the scene of said incident was within the Greek waters and there was no response to the calls in any manner, it had not been possible to intervene in the scene of incident; nevertheless, Turkish assets continued to stay and wait within the Turkish territorial waters," the Turkish statement said. 

The coast guard also provided a recording of a Turkish unit telling its Greek counterparts in a call that the migrants "need to be rescued immediately" or otherwise Greece would be responsible. 

Greece remains one of the most popular routes into the European Union for people fleeing poverty and conflict in the Mideast, Africa and Asia. The vast majority make their way from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands, often in unseaworthy and grossly overcrowded dinghies and boats.

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