At least 12 people have drowned when a boat loaded with asylum seekers sank in the Ionian Sea, according to Greece‘s coast guard.
“So far 12 bodies have been recovered. The search and rescue operation continues,” the coast guard said in a statement, adding that 21 people had been rescued. Three of those rescued were flown to Aktio, in western Greece, to receive medical treatment.
Authorities said the boat took on water near the island of Paxi during an apparent attempt to reach Italy.
Six coast guard patrol boats and two navy helicopters were engaged in the continuing rescue effort, the coast guard said, adding that four passing cargo ships were also assisting the operation.
With the closure of borders along the so-called Balkan refugee route, some asylum seekers in Greece are trying clandestine routes to leave the country and reach Western Europe, including mountain routes into Albania or by sailing to neighbouring Italy.
Thousands of migrants and refugees have died in recent years while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea in small, overloaded boats.
Twenty-two people have died or are still missing in refugee boat sinkings in the Mediterranean just this month, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Another 73 people were rescued in separate incidents in the Aegean Sea between Friday and Saturday, the Greek coastguard said.
Greece in 2019 again became the main entry into Europe for migrants and refugees. The United Nations refugee agency recorded more than 55,000 arrivals by sea, and more than 14,000 via the land border with Turkey.
Greece’s new conservative government has struggled to manage hundreds of new asylum seeker arrivals daily from the coast of neighbouring Turkey. Greece’s refugee camps are mostly full beyond capacity.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies