8:53 am - Thursday November 5, 2015

At least 24 dead as migrant boat sinks in Turkish straits

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At least two dozen migrants lost their lives today when a boat sank near Istanbul in northern Turkey, sparking a major air and sea rescue operation.

Turkish rescue authorities were called to the scene at the mouth of the Bosphorus strait, which runs through northern Turkey, by local fishermen in the early hours of this morning.

Some 24 bodies, including those of women and children, were taken from the water. At least seven people were saved, while a search for survivors continued yesterday.

It is believed that the boat was carrying more than 40 migrants from Afghanistan, who were travelling to Romania or Bulgaria, just north of Turkey.

While thousands of migrants attempt to enter the European Union via boats each year, most sea crossings take place across the Mediterranean. In September, the Turkish coastguard rescued migrants who had left Syria for Europe, after their boat sank off the northern coast of Istanbul.

3,000 deaths

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that more than 3,000 people have already died this year in attempts to reach EU territory across the Mediterranean.

 

The latest sinking of a vessel carrying migrants trying to enter the EU comes days after Mare Nostrum, the Italian search-and-rescue operation that saved thousands of lives in the Mediterranean, came to an end.

The Mare Nostrum project, which involved the use of the Italian navy, was launched following the sinking of a migrant boat near the island of Lampedusa last year, in which more than 360 migrants drowned.

It is estimated that the initiative rescued, on average, 400 migrants a day. Its successor programme, Triton, which is operated by the EU, began work on November 1st, but its main focus is the strengthening of border-control measures rather than search-and-rescue missions. Patrolling operations will be carried out only within 30 miles of the Italian coast.

The IOM has said that the Triton initiative “cannot be considered a replacement of Mare Nostrum”, noting that the Mediterranean “still needs to be patrolled”.

‘Pull factor’

Britain has already said that it will not contribute to the new EU initiative, which will be operated by the EU border protection agency Frontex, arguing that search-and-rescue operations created an “unintended pull factor” for people trying to enter the EU illegally.

 

The war in Syria and ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and north Africa since the Arab Spring have increased the flow of migrants from conflict zones into the EU.

While most migrants enter through Greece, others enter the EU by land via the union’s borders with Turkey.

The new EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Greece’sDimitris Avramopoulos, told MEPs last month that he was in favour of creating a “true European border system”, though he was against the notion of “fortress Europe”.

His appointment as commissioner had been criticised by some MEPs in light of concerns about Greece’s treatment of asylum seekers and illegal migrants in the past.

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