First migrant drownings in Aegean since EU-Turkey deal


Four migrant women and a child drowned Saturday off the Greek island of Samos in the first deaths in the Aegean Sea since a controversial EU-Turkey deal took effect three weeks ago.

“Five people were saved but another five died, including four women and a child when their plastic boat capsized,” a Greek coastguard spokeswoman told AFP.

Coastguard vessels were searching the water for another four people who had been on board the 3.5-metre (11-foot) boat when it capsized, she said.

It was the first time people had drowned while trying to reach Europe via the Aegean Sea since a deal between Brussels and Ankara to stem the human tide went into effect on March 20. The last time was on March 14 when when eight people went missing off the island of Kos.

Under the terms of the EU-Turkey deal, all “irregular migrants” arriving on the Greek islands from Turkey face being sent back.

The aim is to discourage people from making the perilous Aegean crossing in flimsy boats by presenting them with the threat of deportation straight back to where they came from.

For every Syrian refugee sent back to Turkey, one Syrian is supposed to be resettled in Europe. But the deal has been sharply criticised by rights groups.

According to statistics released on Friday by the International Organization of Migrants (IOM), more than 152,000 people have arrived in Greece by sea from Turkey since January 1, nearly three-quarters of whom were Syrians.

Another 366 people have drowned en route.

The Greek coastguard reported that April 5 was the first day without migrant or refugee arrivals by sea since last year, according to the IOM.

Meanwhile Saturday Italian foreign minister Sandro Gozi said his country and Albania were working closely to prevent the creation of a “new migrant route” via the Greek-Albanian border.

The EU-Turkey deal was negotiated after a series of Balkan countries closed their borders including Macedonia, which had been a key point on the route for migrants heading to northern Europe.