herald

Monday 5 December 2016

15 children among 34 dead as refugees' boat capsizes

A Syrian refugee holding a baby in a lifetube swims towards the shore after their dinghy deflated some 100m away before reaching the Greek island of Lesbos, September 13, 2015
A Syrian refugee holding a baby in a lifetube swims towards the shore after their dinghy deflated some 100m away before reaching the Greek island of Lesbos, September 13, 2015
Syrian and Afghan refugees are helped by locals and volunteers as they reach the shore after their dinghy deflated some 100m away from the Greek island of Lesbos, September 13, 2015
Syrian and Afghan refugees are seen on and around a dinghy that deflated some 100m away before reaching the Greek island of Lesbos, September 13, 2015.

Thirty-four refugees, almost half of them babies and children, drowned when their boat sank off a Greek island, almost certainly the largest death toll in those waters since the migrant crisis began, the coastguard said.

Four babies, six boys and five girls died when the wooden vessel carrying them overturned about 5km east of the island of Farmakonisi, close to Turkey’s coast.

Tens of thousands of mainly Syrian refugees have braved rough seas this year to make the short but precarious journey from Turkey to Greece’s eastern islands, mainly in flimsy and overcrowded inflatable dinghies.

Greek coast guard boats rescued 68 other migrants from the sea and 30 more from the boat made it on their own to the island.

A Greek coast guard spokesman said four of the drowned children were infants and, among the others, there were five girls and five boys. He did not know the victims’ ages or nationalities.

On Lesbos, an island which has borne the brunt of Greece’s migrant intake, 10 dinghies arriving within 90 minutes.

One inflatable carrying about 70 refugees, including many children, burst about 100 metres from the shore. Locals pulled infants and toddlers – including a two-month old baby cradled by his father – ashore on rubber rings.

The latest tragedy came as Germany’s interior minister warned that migrants will not get to choose what country they go to, under a proposed European Union quota system to share the burden of new arrivals

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said if refugees get protection in Europe they must accept being distributed around the EU.

“There can be no free choice of residence for refugees. That doesn’t exist anywhere in the world,” he said.

In Munich, the main point of entry for migrants to Germany, police said a total of 12,200 migrants arrived on Saturday and the flow is continuing into the city. Federal police spokesman

Simon Hegewald said over 700 people fleeing their homelands arrived at the city’s main station yesterday morning.

Officials in Munich were putting up tents but say their capacity to house the newcomers from Hungary via Austria is now being stretched to the limit. They are calling for more help from other parts of Germany.

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