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Greece: Deadly shipwreck highlights need for safe passage into Europe

19 Dec 2015

A boat carrying about 85 people capsized off the northern coast of Lesvos, Greece, yesterday, causing at least two deaths, according to Médecins Sans Frontières, which rescued survivors through a joint effort with Greenpeace. When assistance boats arrived on the scene, including two from Médecins Sans Frontières and Greenpeace, the teams began rescuing as many people as possible, handing out flotation devices to help those still in the cold water. Survivors were transferred to a Norwegian Frontex vessel that had arrived to support the rescue operation. Others were transferred to other actors operating in the area.

The capsizing boat "was overloaded, sinking at the back, and literally tipping over onto itself due to the massive amount of passengers," said Kim Clausen, Médecins Sans Frontières deputy project coordinator. "When we arrived there were strong winds and the waves were at least one meter high and people were already in the water."

Eighty-three people were finally rescued, most of them Iraqis, and transferred to the nearby towns of Molyvos and Petra. Many were in need of resuscitation or were treated for hypothermia by Médecins Sans Frontières teams at the arrival points. Three medical cases were referred by Médecins Sans Frontières to a local hospital for hypothermia, including a child who has now recovered.

At least two people, an 80-year-old man and a nine-month-old child, were witnessed to have drowned, and the Médecins Sans Frontières team believes the death toll is higher. Médecins Sans Frontières renews its call for a safe and legal passage at the land border between Turkey and Greece and urges the Greek and EU authorities to step up search and rescue operations in the Aegean Sea.

"While European leaders discuss how to fortify their borders even more, children continue to die in the Aegean Sea," said Aurelie Ponthieu, Médecins Sans Frontières humanitarian adviser on displacement. "A safe passage at the land border between Turkey and Greece would immediately reduce the deaths at sea, but it seems that EU and Greek authorities prefer to keep observing the scene from the distance rather than provide concrete solutions to these tragedies."