LESBOS – More refugees were floating in the Aegean and washing up after at least six bodies were found on the shore of the Greek island of Lesbos, while Greece’s Coast Guard was looking for others but hadn’t found any boat.
Greek officials were said to believe the victims were coming from Turkey, which allows human traffickers to keep operating during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union.
Under the agreement, Turkey is supposed to contain some 4.4 million of them who went there fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, primarily Syria and Afghanistan.
But they’ve come from as far as Pakistan and Bangladesh and also sub-Saharan Africa, scores of thousands willing to risk the perilous journey to get to Greece, mostly to five islands.
They seek asylum, which in the EU is limited to the first country in which they arrive and the problem was dumped largely on Greece after other countries in the bloc closed their doors to them.
The Coast Guard said there were three men and three women although other reports put the number of victims at seen and said the bodies were discovered near the main town of Mytilini.
There were no signs of a shipwreck and the discovery of the bodies was not preceded by any call to emergency numbers about a boat in distress near the island, the Coast Guard said. None of the six had been wearing life jackets.
A search and rescue operation was launched in the area with three coast guard patrol boats, a helicopter and nearby ships to look for potential survivors, while authorities were also searching the coastline.
Thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa, the Middle East and Asia attempt to reach the European Union through Greece, with many making the short but often perilous journey in unseaworthy dinghies from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands.
In December, 2021, more than 30 refugees and migrants drowned in three incidents in the Aegean trying to reach Greece, bodies are showing up and being recovered, including a child, off the island of Naxos.
Early in January, 2022
As Greece has tightened patrols off its eastern Aegean islands, close to the Turkish coastline, smugglers based in Turkey have increasingly packed yachts with migrants and refugees and sent them toward Italy.
Turkey accused Greece of pushing them back – which Greece has denied despite video evidence seeming to show it happened – but the European Union hasn’t sanctioned Turkey for allowing human traffickers to keep sending more in violation of the swap deal.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)