Deadly Shipwreck Highlights Need for Safe Passage Into Europe

GREECE 2015 © Will Rose

A boat carrying about 85 people capsized off the northern coast of Lesbos, Greece, yesterday, causing at least two deaths, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which rescued survivors through a joint effort with Greenpeace.

When assistance boats arrived on the scene, including two from MSF and Greenpeace, the teams began rescuing as many people as possible, handing out flotation devices to help those still in the cold water. Survivors were transferred to a Norwegian Frontex vessel that had arrived to support the rescue operation. Others were transferred to other actors operating in the area.

The capsizing boat "was overloaded, sinking at the back, and literally tipping over onto itself due to the massive amount of passengers," said Kim Clausen, MSF deputy project coordinator. "When we arrived there were strong winds and the waves were at least one meter high and people were already in the water."

Eighty-three people were finally rescued, most of them Iraqis, and transferred to the nearby towns of Molyvos and Petra. Many were in need of resuscitation or were treated for hypothermia by MSF teams at the arrival points. Three medical cases were referred by MSF to a local hospital for hypothermia, including a child who has now recovered.

At least two people, an 80-year-old man and a nine-month-old child, were witnessed to have drowned, and the MSF team believes the death toll is higher.

MSF renews its call for a safe and legal passage at the land border between Turkey and Greece and urges the Greek and EU authorities to step up search and rescue operations in the Aegean Sea.

"While European leaders discuss how to fortify their borders even more, children continue to die in the Aegean Sea," said Aurelie Ponthieu, MSF humanitarian adviser on displacement. "A safe passage at the land border between Turkey and Greece would immediately reduce the deaths at sea, but it seems that EU and Greek authorities prefer to keep observing the scene from the distance rather than provide concrete solutions to these tragedies."

Learn More About MSF's Work With Refugees and IDPs

Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) and Greenpeace boat crews responded to an emergency on December 16 as a wooden refugee boat capsized about mile and a half off the coast of Lesbos. On arrival to the scene all refugees were in the water and a major rescue operation involving Greenpeace, MSF, Frontex, Sea Watch and Proactiva ensued. A total of 83 people were rescued, while two people drowned - an 80-year-old man and nine-month old girl.
GREECE 2015 © Will Rose