First migrant drownings in Aegean Sea since EU-Turkey deal

Meanwhile, Italy and Albania are working closely to prevent the creation of a 'new migrant route' via the Greek-Albanian border

Agence France-Presse

Published: 1:07 AM April 10, 2016

Updated: 1:07 AM April 10, 2016

ATHENS, Greece – Four migrant women and a child drowned on Saturday, April 9, off the Greek island of Samos in the first deaths in the Aegean Sea since a controversial EU-Turkey deal took effect 3 weeks ago.

"Five people were saved but another 5 died, including 4 women and a child when their plastic boat capsized," a Greek coastguard spokeswoman told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Coastguard vessels were searching the water for another 4 people who had been on board the 3.5-meter (11-foot) boat when it capsized, she said. 

It was the first time people had drowned while trying to reach Europe via the Aegean Sea since a deal between Brussels and Ankara to stem the human tide went into effect on March 20. The last time was on March 14 when when 8 people went missing off the island of Kos. 

Under the terms of the EU-Turkey deal, all "irregular migrants" arriving on the Greek islands from Turkey face being sent back. 

The aim is to discourage people from making the perilous Aegean crossing in flimsy boats by presenting them with the threat of deportation straight back to where they came from.

For every Syrian refugee sent back to Turkey, one Syrian is supposed to be resettled in Europe. But the deal has been sharply criticised by rights groups.

According to statistics released on Friday by the International Organization of Migrants (IOM), more than 152,000 people have arrived in Greece by sea from Turkey since January 1, nearly three-quarters of whom were Syrians. 

Another 366 people have drowned en route.

The Greek coastguard reported that April 5 was the first day without migrant or refugee arrivals by sea since last year, according to the IOM. 

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Italian foreign minister Sandro Gozi said his country and Albania were working closely to prevent the creation of a "new migrant route" via the Greek-Albanian border.

The EU-Turkey deal was negotiated after a series of Balkan countries closed their borders including Macedonia, which had been a key point on the route for migrants heading to northern Europe.

"We haven't seen any specific increase of (migrant flow) through Albania," Gozi said after a meeting of 6 European ministers in Greece to take stock of the migrant crisis.

"But it's very important to strengthen our cooperation between Italy and Albania. We are working very closely not to find ourselves taken by surprise when we know that there is the possibility of a new route of flows."

The six ministers – from France, Malta, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Portugal – were to leave Greece later Saturday for Turkey, which has been the main gateway for migrants heading to Europe.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, stressed the bloc's support for Greece in implementing the EU-Turkey deal.

"Greece plays a key role in resolving the migration crisis because thousands of migrants arrive first here and because of its geographical location," he said.

"Fortunately they are not facing this crisis on their own. The EU stands ready to give a hand whenever necessary. EU countries have to show solidarity." –