ISTANBUL (Web Desk) – Turkish authorities on Tuesday recovered bodies of at least 36 migrants, including several children, washed up on beaches and floating off its western coast after their boats overturned in rough waters as they tried to reach the Greek island of Lesbos.
Nine bodies, including those of children, washed up on a beach in the resort town of Ayvalik early in the morning, prompting authorities to dispatch coast guard boats and gendarmerie officials to search the area by sea and by land for possible survivors.
Seven other bodies were washed up on a shore at Dikili, a resort about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Ayvalik, the victims of a second migrant tragedy, the private Dogan news agency reported. The dead included women and children, the agency said.
By late afternoon, the gendarmerie forces had recovered a total of 29 bodies in the area while seven others were found by the coast guards, a Coast Guard statement said, without providing details.
Around 850,000 migrants and refugees crossed into Greece last year, paying smuggling gangs to ferry them over from Turkey in frail boats.
The deaths are the latest involving migrants fleeing war and misery in the hope of finding a new life in Europe.
The images of the small lifeless bodies on the sand echo those of three-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi, pictures of whose corpse lying face-down on a Turkish beach in September 2015 spurred Europe into greater action on the migrant crisis.
A drowned two-year-old boy became the first known migrant casualty of the year on Saturday after the crowded dinghy he was travelling in slammed into rocks off Greece’s Agathonisi island, the coastguard said.
Turkey, which is home to some 2.2 million refugees from Syria’s civil war, has become a hub for migrants seeking to reach Europe, many of whom pay people smugglers thousands of dollars for the risky crossing.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said 1,004,356 migrants and refugees reached Europe in 2015, almost five times the previous year’s total of 219,000.
The IOM also said Tuesday that 3,771 migrants and refugees died crossing the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe in 2015, making the past year the deadliest on record.
It said 77 percent of the deaths occurred in the central Mediterranean route mostly used by smugglers operating from Libyan shores. But it noted a surge in the numbers who died in the eastern Mediterranean around Turkey and Greece.
“In 2015, 21 percent of deaths occurred in the eastern Mediterranean compared to only 1 percent in 2014,” the IOM said.
Ankara reached an agreement with the EU in November to stem the flow of refugees heading to Europe, in return for financial assistance.