Migrants rescued from Greek islet as overloaded boat sinks
Captain: 'We loaded 96 refugees safely. Right now they are all on board the ship'
Volunteers and Frontex workers have rescued scores of migrants left stranded on an uninhabited Greek islet off the island of Chios as another small boat loaded with migrants collided on rocks near a beach on the island.
The 96 rescued migrants rescued Thursday, mainly from Syria and Iraq and including many families with small children, had spent the night in their wet clothes on the islet's beach until Frontex workers and a boat and crew provided by a local company, Environmental Protection Engineering, brought them to the port of Chios.
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"We approached the islet to get as close to shore as we could, and with the help of a Frontex vessel we loaded 96 refugees safely," said Manolis Geranis, the captain of Aegis 1. "Right now they are all on board the ship and we are taking them to the port of Chios,"
The Aegis 1 is a large, all-weather boat that can host hundreds of people on board and has been participating in rescues with Frontex and the Greek coastguard since October.
Earlier, another group of migrants waded to shore in the pre-dawn dark after their dinghy boat snagged onto rocks near the southeastern beach resort of Karfas, in Chios which lies just three nautical miles from Turkey.
One child, still wearing his life jacket, cried as he reached the shore.
At least 26 people drowned when their boat sank off a Greek island on Jan. 27, raising to at least 80 the number of migrants and refugees to have died at sea in the past few days, making it the deadliest week in the Aegean since the migrant crisis began last spring.
More than 900,000 people fleeing Syria, Afghanistan and other war-torn or impoverished countries, arrived in Greece from Turkey last year, often risking the short but dangerous sea crossing in overloaded inflatable boats.
The latest accident occurred north of the island of Samos, close to the Turkish coast. The coastguard said a man who managed to swim ashore told Greek authorities the boat had been carrying 40 to 45 people.
A day earlier, six people including a child drowned when their vessel sank off the island of Kos, also near Turkey.
Few choose to stay
The influx has continued unabated through the winter months despite the cold weather and rough seas, with about 2,000 people landing on Greece's islands a day, according to data by the United Nations' refugee agency, UNHCR.
Few, if any, of those arriving to Greece choose to stay and seek asylum in the country, which is struggling through its worst peacetime economic crisis. Most continue their trek through Greece and the Balkans to wealthier western European countries.
On Wednesday, the European Commission warned there could be more controls over movement between Greece and other states in the free-travel Schengen zone from May unless Greece fixed "serious deficiencies" in its management of the zone's external frontier.
Several EU member states have instituted emergency controls on their borders and warned they may effectively suspend Athens from the passport-free zone.