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Eleven refugees found dead off the coast of Turkey A handout photo made available by the Turkish coast guard shows a diver searching for refugees  (ANSA)

Dozens of migrants drown in weekend tragedies

Turkish authorities say eight children are among at least the 11 migrants who drowned when their boat sank off Turkey's western coast. The tragedy came hours after at least a dozen migrants drowned near the south-western Greek island of Paxi. Despite the tragedies, many refugees still want to use the Balkan route to enter more prosperous European Union nations.

By Stefan J. Bos 

Turkey says only eight people were rescued from the waters off Cesme, a tourist resort on the Aegean coast opposite the Greek island of Chios. But at least 11 others drowned after their boat sank. The nationalities of the dead and those rescued were not yet known.

Turkey has been a critical transit point for migrants trying to reach Europe, mainly through Greece. Many are fleeing war, persecution, and poverty in their troubled nations.

In a statement, the Turkish Coast Guard said it responded to "screaming sounds" from the sea late Saturday. Cesme, where the incident happened, is just 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Chios, where thousands of migrants are living in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

The number of people crossing from Turkey has risen sharply recently. Most of them are coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria. They often rely on people smugglers and face dangerous land and sea routes, which often result in deaths.

Four million refugees

Turkey, which is home to four million refugees, reached a financial deal with the European Union to stem the flow of migrants and refugees to Europe.

Turkish authorities claim they held some 60,000 people trying to cross the Mediterranean last year. Almost 9,000 suspected human traffickers were arrested reportedly detained.

But deadly drama's at sea are continuing.

The latest reported tragedy came just hours after another migrant boat sank in the Ionian Sea near the south-western Greek island of Paxi, killing at least 12 people.

Greek officials said 21 people had been rescued and that they were still trying to determine how many people were on the vessel.

Suffering in Greece 

But even if they arrive in Greece, their better future is far from certain. In recent days migrants fleeing war, persecution, and poverty could be seen burning a tire and doing other actions to protest the problematic conditions in refugee camps.

On the island of Lesbos, refugees expressed anger over the lack of access to essential services, including heating as winter sets in. Many have to use firewood to keep warm between tens and filthy conditions.   

Separate incidents were illustrating the desperation of migrants seeking a better life. Authorities in nearby North Macedonia said Saturday that 62 migrants were discovered hidden inside freight trains at the border with Greece.

Border control teams that included officers from North Macedonia, Austria, and the Czech Republic found 42 migrants during a routine inspection of a freight train in the town of Gevgelija on Friday. 

Thirty-eight of the migrants were from Morocco.

Many more tragedies are expected as thousands of people try to reach more prosperous EU nations.

12 January 2020, 17:34