UN Refugee Agency calls for reinforcement of search and rescue in the Aegean

Deeply saddened by two consecutive tragedies, UNHCR reiterates its call for additional resources for search and rescue operations in the Aegean Sea and the stepping up of efforts to provide legal avenues so people can avoid dangerous sea voyages organized by ruthless smugglers.

At least 16 people died, many of them children, and over 30 people are missing, in two boat tragedies, involving Yezidis from Iraq, off the coast of Farmakonissi island on Wednesday (9/12) and Thursday (10/12).

In the first shipwreck a wooden boat carrying an estimated number of 49 refugees capsized and sank due to overcrowding during the early hours of Wednesday. The Hellenic Coast Guard retrieved the bodies of 12 refugees including 6 children. Twenty-six refugees, including seven children were rescued, while 11 people remain missing.

The second boat carried an estimated 30 people. Four bodies were retrieved by the Hellenic Coast Guard, two women were rescued by the Turkish Coast Guard and four men swam to Farmakonissi. According to the survivors, the 20 other passengers, mostly women and children who were in the boat’s cabin, are missing. Survivors reported that the boat started taking in water at the beginning of the journey and their requests of returning to the Turkish shore were ignored by the smugglers. The boat sank leaving most of the passengers trapped in the cabin.

“We have repeatedly warned that these sea journeys risk to become deadly. Worsening weather conditions and the use of overcrowded and unsafe boats are significantly increasing the danger,” said Marco Procaccini, UNHCR in Kos.

Since the beginning of 2015, around 792,000 people arrived to the Greek islands from Turkey. Ninety-two percent of them come from the worlds’ top ten refugee producing countries. During the same period at least 351 people lost their lives or went missing in Greek waters, including many children.  For several years, UNHCR has advocated for additional legal avenues so refugees fleeing war and persecution could reach the EU and elsewhere in safety and dignity. UNHCR calls on governments for additional resettlement and humanitarian admission, family reunification, private sponsorship and student visas.

UNHCR and its partners coordinate with Greek authorities to provide follow-up care for survivors, including legal counselling, psychosocial support, accommodation, humanitarian assistance and medical care.

“These families feel they have no choice but to flee to try to reach safety and protection after years of war and persecution. Too many of them have also had to survive the harsh tragedy of their entire families destroyed in a few minutes. What we face when providing humanitarian assistance to the survivors upon their arrival to the Greek shores is a desperate call for help by refugees. It is the most difficult task that we are asked to fulfil,” said Procaccini.