Six more children drowned off Turkey's Aegean Coast on Friday. In two separate incidents, two Syrian and four Afghan children died when boats carrying migrants capsized and sank near the coasts of Muğla and Çanakkale early Friday.
The first incident occurred in Çanakkale, a preferred destination among migrants due to the province's proximity to the Greek island of Lesvos. A boat carrying Afghan and Syrian migrants capsized due to strong winds and heavy rainfall. Four Afghan children aboard drowned while 51 others were rescued after survivors managed to place a call to the Coast Guard hotline. Neither the identities nor ages of the deceased children have been released while four other survivors, including a child were hospitalized and were reportedly in critical condition. The Coast Guard also rescued 357 migrants Thursday night. The majority of them were Syrians and saved minutes before their boats were about to sink due to severe winds in the area.
The second incident was in Bodrum, a popular vacation resort in the southwestern province of Muğla. Twenty-three Syrian nationals were attempting to reach the nearby Greek islands when their wooden boat capsized due to bad weather. All except two survived and managed to swim back to the coast. The victims were two sisters, 1-year-old Dilwan Khalil Hussein and 4-year-old Beren Khalil Hussein, who were traveling to Greece with their parents and their 6-year-old sister. Police found the parents and other survivors as they grieved over the dead bodies. Locals said migrants notified them about two missing children and CPR was administered but the sisters could not be resuscitated. However, paramedics called to the scene managed to resuscitate 4-year-old Nasreen Solar Omar.
Quoting police sources, media reports say the migrants were forced to embark on the journey despite bad weather. Omar Hassan Hussein, the father of the two victims, told police they came to Bodrum from Istanbul and paid the smugglers for the voyage to the islands. "It was raining and windy. We told them [smugglers] we could not go. But they told us they would not refund us or schedule another trip and we had to go. We were desperate so we boarded the boat. Soon after we left, waves knocked the boat over. My wife and I were holding the children but we lost them when we fell overboard. We were lost too but we managed to swim ashore a while later," he said during his interrogation.
A Turkish national was detained by police on charges of smuggling after the incident. Migrants had reportedly paid $1,500 per person to smugglers.
Migrants fleeing conflict and persecution in their home countries risk their lives in perilous journeys from Turkey to Greece, the nearest gateway to Europe where they ultimately hope to take shelter. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) more than 712,000 people arrived in Greece this year as migrants via crossing the Aegean Sea and 585 people died en route to the country.
Turkey is struggling to cope with an influx of refugees especially from Syria, its war-plagued neighbor to the south. The country hosts more than 2 million Syrians and faces a new wave of displaced Syrians as the conflict deepens due to the rise of DAESH in Syria. Though most refugees prefer to stay in Turkey despite economic hardships, a considerable number of them seek haven in Europe. According to unofficial figures, at least 73,000 migrants were intercepted by the Coast Guard this year around the Aegean Sea. The Coast Guard launched Operation Aegean Hope in May after the sudden surge of migrants seeking to cross the Aegean Sea.
Refugees often pay all they have to human smugglers to reach Greece but smugglers frequently trick them or supply them with boats that are not seaworthy. Cheap, fake life vests filled with sponges that soak up water are often sold to refugees. Migrants still take on the risk despite the perilous voyage and travel in overcrowded rafts that are unsuitable for sea voyages.
Their hopes for a better life in Europe, however, are often crushed due to a dispute among member states of the European Union on how many migrants each country should take and how to tackle the refugee influx. Europe has tried to stave off the flow by offering Turkey 3 billion euros to harbor more refugees.