32 Kurdish migrants died, missing in Aegean Sea shipwrecks: watchdog

A life jacket is left after a group of migrants got on an inflatable dinghy, to leave the coast of northern France and to cross the English Channel, near Wimereux, France, November 24, 2021. (Reuters photo)

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — Up to 32 people from the Kurdistan Region who had taken the sea route to reach Europe have died or gone missing near Greek coasts in the past week, a Kurdish refugee watchdog said on Tuesday.

Lutka Foundation for Refugees and Displaced Affairs said 23 Kurdish migrants had gone missing, while seven others were rescued in the shipwreck on December 21.

Greek coast guard said last week that a boat, which one migrant said carried about 50 people, sank off the coast of Folegandros island, some 180 kilometers southwest of Athens. Twelve people were rescued by the Greek coastguards.

Bodies of nine more migrants from the Kurdistan Region were found in the shipwreck on December 23 near the island of Antikythera, southern Greece, Lutka added.

Fifty-seven migrants were rescued, it stated.

In the third incident in which 16 migrants died after their boat capsized near the island of Paros, none of migrants were Kurds, Lutka said.

Sixty-three people were rescued from the boat, according to Greek authorities.

Greece is one of the main routes into the European Union for migrants and refugees from Africa, the Middle East and beyond, though the flow has tapered off since 2015-2016, when more than a million people traversed the country to other EU states.

In a statement, UNHCR said at least 31 people died in the shipwrecks last week, while an unknown number were still missing.

More than 160 people were rescued by the Greek coast guards, the UNHCR added.

“It is heart-rending that, out of despair and in the absence of safe pathways, refugees and migrants feel compelled to entrust their lives to ruthless smugglers,” UNHCR Representative in Greece Maria-Clara Martin said.

“More resolute action is needed to curb people smuggling and stop those who exploit human misery and despair. It is disheartening to see preventable tragedies like these repeating themselves. We should not get used to seeing bodies being recovered from the sea.”

More than 2,500 people have died or gone missing at sea in their attempt to reach Europe from January until the end of November, according to the UNHCR.

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