Eight illegal migrants died and another seven are missing after the boat carrying them sank Friday off the coast of Fethiye, a district of the southwestern Turkish province of Muğla. Migrants whose nationalities were not disclosed were traveling to nearby Greek islands when their boat started filling with water. Rescue crews were dispatched to the area after the incident. The bodies of some migrants, including three women, were found by crews while efforts were underway to find the missing.
Turkey has been a key transit point for illegal migrants looking to cross into Europe to start new lives, especially those fleeing war and persecution. In the past five years, 654 illegal migrants lost their lives either due to drowning or hypothermia. Migrant deaths were highest in 2015, as 279 people died. The number dropped to 192 in 2016, and 56 in 2017, before rising to 93 in 2018. In 2019, 34 illegal migrants died at sea. On Dec. 26, seven migrants died when their boat sank off the coast of Lake Van in eastern Turkey as they were trying to dodge a security checkpoint on the land route.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of migrants flee civil conflict or economic hardship in their home countries with the hope of reaching Europe. Some migrants are able to make the dangerous journey over land or sea with the assistance of smugglers who often abandon them, especially during sea journeys, after receiving thousands of dollars from each passenger. Others are stopped by Turkish security forces before crossing the border into Europe.
The Greek islands near Turkey's Aegean shores are the preferred destinations of migrants heading to Europe. However, journeys aboard unsafe, overcrowded boats sometimes steered by inexperienced migrants often turn out deadly. Some desperate migrants still take the route even in winter, when a safe journey through the Aegean is nearly impossible. Figures show the Coast Guard Command stopped 37,130 people in 2016, while the number dropped to 21,937 in 2017, and rose to 26,678 in 2018.