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Seven refugees drown as boat capsizes off Greek island

Refugees often make a perilous journey from Turkey to Greece on overcrowded boats [Getty Archive]

Date of publication: 11 June, 2019

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Seven people have died as a boat smuggling refugees from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos capsized in the Aegean Sea.

A boat carrying dozens of refugees to a Greek island from the nearby Turkish coast capsized early Tuesday, leaving seven people dead, including two children.

Greece's coastguard said 57 people had been rescued, while seven people - two girls, four women and a man - were pulled from the water unconscious and later confirmed dead.

A search and rescue operation in the area off the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos was called off after all those on board had been accounted for, the coast guard said. There were no further passengers reported missing.

It was not immediately clear why the boat capsized.

The number of people heading to the Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast has decreased significantly since the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, when thousands would arrive each day. But hundreds of people continue to make the treacherous journey.

Refugees arriving in Lesbos mostly come from Syria, Iraq, and African countries such as Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where under-reported conflicts are taking places.

Many refugees also come from Kuwait's Bidoon community, who are indigenous to Kuwait but are denied citizenship or access to education and healthcare.

The "Aegean Boat Report" Facebook page reported that most of the refugees who were rescued from the ship were African, but there was no information about the nationalities of those who drowned.

Although the distance from Turkey is short, smugglers often use unseaworthy boats and pack them way beyond capacity, leading to many sinking or capsizing.

Under an agreement reached between Turkey and the European Union designed to stem migrant flows into Europe, those arriving on Greek islands from Turkey remain in camps on the island. They face possible deportation unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece.

The long and bureaucratic asylum application procedure has led to severe overcrowding, poor conditions, and mental and physical health problems in many of the camps on Greek islands.

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