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12 refugees found drowned on Turkish shore; hypothermia claims trio who reached Lesbos

Reuters/thomson Reuters Foundation

Twelve bodies were found on Turkey’s western coast and 26 people were rescued on Tuesday after a boat carrying migrants bound for Greece capsized, the Turkish coast guard said in a statement.

Responding to a distress signal sent in the early morning near Izmir, the coast guard found the bodies of at least five children, according to Dogan News Agency.

The coast guard said a helicopter and three boats were still searching for others.

All of those who died, including one pregnant woman, came from Iraq and had tried to sail from Aliaga in Izmir province to the Greek island of Lesbos, according to Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.

On Wednesday, Turkey’s EU minister, Volkan Bozkir, said the European Union must fulfill its promises as part of a deal struck at the end of November in which Turkey promised to help stem the flow of migrants to Europe in return for cash, visas and renewed talks on joining the European Union.

But EU officials have said Turkey’s efforts of curbing migration are falling short and that there is a lot of work still to do.

Despite authorities cracking down on illegal crossings and dangerous winter conditions, thousands are still boarding flimsy boats and braving the Mediterranean waves.

According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 24,000 crossed the Mediterranean to Greece and Italy in the first two weeks of January, and its spokesman, Joel Millman, said 58 deaths had been recorded as of Jan. 12.

Meanwhile a 5-year-old child and two women died from hypothermia on Lesbos on Wednesday after crossing the Aegean from Turkey in freezing weather, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on Thursday.

They were among more than 800 refugees, many of them Syrian families, who reached Lesbos on Wednesday aboard nearly 20 boats, battered by wind and snow as temperatures plunged below zero Celsius, IFRC spokeswoman Caroline Haga said.

“These needless deaths are shameful — we must establish safer ways for people to escape conflict, persecution and poverty,” Karen Bjornestad, head of the IFRC in Greece, said in a statement.

“Death should not be the result of a basic human desire to live in safety and find a future.”

Thousands of refugees, mainly Syrians fleeing the war, have braved rough seas to make the short but precarious journey from Turkey to Greece’s eastern islands, mainly in flimsy and overcrowded inflatable boats.

Despite choppy seas and wintry weather, which add to the dangers of the journey, 10 to 15 boats a day are arriving on Lesbos at present, the IFRC said.

Haga said that on Wednesday the IFRC vehicles got stuck in snow on the way to the north part of the island where most migrants arrive.

The boat on which the child and two women who died were traveling had problems with the engine, so the journey across the Aegean Sea, which normally takes at least two hours, was longer than usual, she said.

“Normally all the boats that come are full of water because the sea is quite rough,” Haga told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Athens.

“They sit there for a long time and they don’t have proper clothes and they’re completely wet when they arrive.”

IFRC staff treated other hypothermia cases and managed to save another woman’s life.

Haga said the nationality of the child and the women who died had not yet been determined.

The Turkish coast guard said earlier that 12 bodies were found on Turkey’s west coast on Tuesday and 26 people were rescued after a boat carrying migrants bound for Greece capsized.