Greece says twenty-two migrants drown off Aegean islands, 144 rescued


Greece rescued 138 refugees and recovered the bodies of 19 after their boat capsized off the island of Kalymnos, the coastguard said on Friday, in the second major deadly incident this week.

The death toll from drownings at sea has mounted recently as weather in the Aegean has taken a turn for the worse, turning wind-whipped sea corridors into deadly passages for thousands of refugees crossing from Turkey to Greece.

In a second incident off the island of Rhodes, three people, including a child and an infant, drowned and three were missing. Six people were rescued at sea, the coastguard said.

Some 16 people were confirmed dead and 274 people were rescued when a wooden boat they were on literally fell apart in rough seas off the Greek island of Lesbos late on Wednesday.

Greece has been a transit point for more than 500,000 refugees and migrants fleeing conflict in the Middle East and beyond this year, triggering bickering among European nations at odds on how to deal with one of the biggest humanitarian crises in decades.

Refugees have reported smugglers offering ‘discounts’ of up to 50 percent on tickets costing between 1,100 to 1,400 euros to make the journey on inflatable rafts in bad weather, UN refugee agency UNHCR said on Thursday.

Perceptibly sturdier wooden boats cost more, at between 1,800 and 2,500 euros per passenger.

Earlier it was reported that four African migrants drowned and up to 35 were missing after their boat sank in the Mediterranean in the early hours of Thursday around 40 miles (65 km) north of the Moroccan coast, Spanish sea rescue services said.

Lifeguards pulled four bodies from the sea after they were spotted by a Colombian military helicopter helping in the search, a sea rescue spokesman said. The spokesman could not say whether the recovered bodies were male or female.

Earlier, 15 people including two women were rescued from the boat after it lost its bottom and sank. They were found clinging to the wreckage, sea rescue services said. One of those rescued said there had been 54 people in the boat.

The Mediterranean between Morocco and Spain was a major route around 10 years ago for migrants from Africa trying to reach Europe, but numbers fell after Spain increased patrols.

The search for survivors and bodies continues. The survivors have been taken to the southern Spanish city of Malaga.