ATHENS (Reuters) – At least four migrants died after their boat sank on an islet north of Antikythera Island on Thursday, the Greek coast guard said, adding that rescue teams had organized an operation to rescue about 90 other people.
Greece is one of the main entry routes into the European Union for refugees and migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, but most cross on inflatable boats to islands near the Turkish coast.
Thursday’s sinking is the second in the Aegean Sea this week, with rescue teams still looking for a second day for dozens of asylum seekers who fear they will disappear after their boat sank off the coast of the island of Folegandros.
Antikythera and Folegandros are not on the typical migrant route and officials said the boats, which left Turkey, were likely targeting Italy.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has called the Folegandros shipwreck “the worst” in the Aegean Sea this year.
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“This shipwreck is a painful reminder that people continue to embark on perilous journeys in search of safety,” said Adriano Silvestri, UNHCR deputy representative in Greece.
“Such tragic deaths are preventable, especially through the establishment of regular and secure channels that could prevent people from resorting to smugglers,” he added.
UNHCR estimates that more than 2,500 people have died or disappeared at sea as they tried to reach Europe this year.
Greece, which was at the forefront of Europe’s refugee crisis when it began in 2015, has since hardened its position and stepped up land and sea patrols to deter people from reaching its shores.
(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Alexander Smith)
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