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UNHCR Laments Refugee Death Toll in Greece’s Seas, Praises Rescues

December 29, 2021

ATHENS – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) bemoaned the death of at least 31 refugees in three separate capsizing incidents near Greek islands and said it had to stop.

Those happened in a three-day period as refugees and migrants keep trying to come to Greek islands or with human traffickers bypassing them to try to get them to Italy, a more perilous journey.

There could be at least two dozen others missing, including women and children, their bodies floating in the seas between Turkey, from where they had come after fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, and Greece, making a watery graveyard.

“It is heart-rending that, out of despair and in the absence of safe pathways, refugees and migrants feel compelled to entrust their lives to ruthless smugglers. More resolute action is needed to curb people smuggling and stop those who exploit human misery and despair,” Maria-Clara Martin, UNHCR Representative in Greece, said in a statement, reported Kathimerini.

“It is disheartening to see preventable tragedies like these repeating themselves. We should not get used to seeing bodies being recovered from the sea,” she said.

The first sinking happened off Folegandros island, with 13 people rescued and the bodies of three men recovered. One survivor told the Greek Coast Guard that as many as 50 people may have been onboard the boat that carried them without any safety equipment.

The second happened north of Antikythera island in the Aegean and took 11 lives with 88 people rescued and then, on Christmas Eve, a boat carrying at least 80 people capsized off Paros, with 17 drowning, including a baby.

The survivors were taken to the island where local authorities and island residents rushed to assist them with blankets, food and clothes, the paper said, making a grim Christmas Eve there.

More than 160 people were rescued by the Greek Coast Guard, with support from the country’s Navy and Air Force, as well as merchant and private vessels, the report said, after the New Democracy government had been accused of pushing back refugees and migrants, which it denied.

“UNHCR commends the efforts of all those involved in bringing survivors to safety,” Martin said although the government and the European Union border patrol FRONTEX had stepped up hunts for refugee boats which has led to human traffickers now trying to detour around Greek islands.

Turkey, which also accused Greece of pushbacks, has been allowing human smugglers to keep transporting refugees and migrants in violation of an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union and hasn’t been sanctioned, but rewarded with even more funding from the bloc.

There are some 4.4 million refugee and migrants in Turkey who are supposed to be contained under the agreement after going there from a number of countries, primarily Syria and Afghanistan but as far as Pakistan and sub-Saharan Africa as well.

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