By Stefan J. Bos
Turkish authorities have confirmed that the boat carrying migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan sunk in Lake Van in eastern Turkey early Thursday.
It happened while the vessel approached the town of Adilcevaz in Bitlis province. The provincial governor's office said in a statement that five of the migrants were found dead in the lake. Two others died in a hospital.
Officials added that some sixty-four people were rescued and taken to nearby hospitals and shelters.
And security forces, emergency teams, and divers were continuing search-and-rescue operations. But hopes were fading that more survivors would be found in the lake which is near Iran but lies within Turkey's borders.
Turkey is the main crossing point for migrants trying to reach Europe. Thursday's incident follows a series of tragedies faced by migrants trying to escape misery.
Video footage has emerged of Turkey's coast guard, stopping a boat carrying men, women, and children fleeing war, persecution, and poverty. Those on board tried to reach Greece, a European Union member state. But instead, they were struck with batons.
Those on board later said that the beatings got worse when they were detained. Aid worker Omar Al Said of the Starfish Foundation says it is not an isolated incident. "We have seen so many videos from the very people who came in those boats," he recalled.
"And, basically, it is something so common. I would say it is something that most of the people who come here and encounter the Turkish coastguard have to endure," the aid worker added.
However, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has defended his policies. In 2016, he a massive financial deal with the European Union to stem the flow of migrants and refugees to Europe.
But German media cited a confidential EU report as saying the number of crossings from Turkey rose sharply this year. Most
people came from Afghanistan.
President Erdogan has warned that Turkey may not handle a "new refugee wave" from Syria amid increased bombardments there.
He said the influx would be "felt by all European countries."
Turkey already hosts some 3.7 million Syrian refugees, the largest refugee population in the world.
Thousands more are suffering this festive season in the Balkans, at the start of winter there.