Dozens feared dead as migrant boats sink

Dozens feared dead as migrant boats sink
Migrants whose boat stalled at sea while crossing from Turkey to Greece swim to approach the shore of the island of Lesbos today. Picture: AP

Dozens of migrants are feared dead after two boat tragedies left rescuers scouring the seas for those who had set out on risky crossings after fleeing war and poverty in their homelands.

Thirteen migrants died after their boat collided with a ferry off the Turkish coast, officials said, while the Greek coast guard fanned out in the choppy waters of the Aegean Sea searching for another 27 people missing after their boat sank off the island of Lesbos.

Coast guard officials said some 29 people were rescued in the two incidents, which followed another sinking near Lesbos on Saturday, in which a five-year-old girl drowned. Between 10 and 12 people were missing.

The events highlight the risks that those fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia are willing to take in hopes of reaching sanctuary in Europe. Men, women and children continue to take the perilous sea journey despite the fact that thousands of earlier migrants find themselves blocked by closed border crossings in the Balkans.

Meanwhile, Hungary has reopened its main border crossing with Serbia after sealing it off for five days to prevent migrants from entering its territory.

Hungarian Interior Minister Sandor Pinter said the crossing on the M5 highway between Roszke, Hungary, and Horgos, Serbia, was reopened for vehicles, which will be checked.

The crossing was the site of clashes on Wednesday between baton-wielding Hungarian riot police and migrants and the reopening follows negotiations with Pinter’s Serbian counterpart, Nebojsa Stefanovic.

Relations between Hungary and Serbia have been complicated by Hungary’s decision to construct a razor-wire fence along its 175-kilometre (110-mile) border with Serbia to keep migrants out.

Pinter indicated that some of those tensions were easing, saying: “We determined how to handle this extraordinary situation together and tried to find a joint solution.”

While Hungary had repelled migrants at its southern border with Serbia, those arriving from Croatia on its western border are instead greeted with buses and trains that escort them to Austria.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told news portal index.hu that migrants entering from Croatia are receiving the favourable treatment for now because Hungary does not yet have a fence completed along its frontier with Croatia, whereas the fence with Serbia is complete.

Szijjarto explained that without a fence, expelling migrants back into Croatia would create chaos.

The result is that more than 16,000 migrants have crossed into Hungary from Croatia since Friday.

Austria said 11,000 migrants had crossed into the country from Hungary in the 24-hour period that ended at midnight.

The country’s interior ministry says that another 7,000 are expected today at the main Nickelsdorf crossing, east of Vienna.

Ministry officials are meeting with charity organisations to try and find temporary shelter for the new arrivals, who are fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

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