Police are looking for three people suspected of loading 27 migrants onto a small motorboat just 7-8 meters long that capsized a few meters off the coast of Lefkada on Friday morning, resulting in the deaths of 12 passengers, including four children.
The coast guard rescued 15 survivors who reached the Ionian island’s coast and called authorities on a cell phone. They found eight bodies in the sea – including four children aged 3 to 6 – and another four trapped under the vessel.
Some of the survivors identified themselves as Syrians. Authorities believe they were trying to reach Italy from the western Greek coast, a popular departure point from which to reach the neighboring country as the coastline offers numerous hiding places and makes spotting cargoes of illegal immigrants especially challenging.
Friday’s incident prompted Greek government officials to renew calls for changes to European Union immigration policy.
Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias told Parliament in the wake of the tragedy that Greece is seeking the introduction of a clause in regulations that would redistribute irregular migrants among EU member states based on their size, population and gross domestic product. He also insisted that Greece will continue to use the description “illegal” for people entering the country without permission instead of “irregular,” which is the accepted term in most EU countries.
“We are not going to feel guilty about protecting our national sovereignty and our borders. This is our right,” Dendias said.
Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou also called for a Europe-wide response to “the waves of illegal immigration.”
He said that emphasis must be placed on breaking the networks “set up by slavers to profit from the lives of desperate people.”
In a related development, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees on Friday called on Greece and Bulgaria to help Syrian refugees.
“Push-backs and prevention of entry can put asylum seekers at further risk and expose them to trauma,” UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva.
“UNHCR is calling for a global moratorium on any return of Syrians to neighboring countries,” Edwards said, adding that it would be a “concrete gesture of solidarity.”