ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A search and rescue operation is underway Friday near Greece’s island of Lesbos along the maritime border with Turkey, after an inflatable dinghy carrying migrants apparently sank, authorities said.
Ten people had been rescued and another three were believed to be missing, Greece’s coast guard said.
Two coast guard patrol boats, a vessel from the European border agency Frontex, one helicopter and two aircraft, as well as a vessel that had been sailing nearby, were involved in the search operation, the coast guard said. Turkey’s coast guard had also been informed of the incident.
According to the Greek coast guard, the dinghy appeared to have sunk inside Turkish territorial waters, with initially one survivor swimming into Greek territorial waters and being picked up by Greek authorities. Another nine people were then rescued from inside Turkish territorial waters, they said.
Survivors told authorities there had been a total of 13 people on the dinghy when it sank. Their nationalities weren’t immediately available.
Speaking in parliament, Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said Turkey failed to rescue the passengers “as it should have done inside Turkish territorial waters and the Greek coast guard, which puts the protection of human life above all, was forced to enter Turkish territorial waters, rescuing 10 people.”
Greece has for years been one of the most popular entry points into the European Union for people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The vast majority attempt to reach Greek islands near the Turkish coast, often in dangerously overcrowded inflatable dinghies and unseaworthy boats.
Mitarachi stressed that Greece was protecting its borders and that entries by migrants heading from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands were 96% lower in the last 12 months compared with the previous 12-month period.
Rights groups and migrants have repeatedly accused Greece of carrying out illegal summary deportations of people who arrive on the islands without giving them the chance to apply for asylum. Greek authorities vehemently deny they carry out pushbacks, but do say they robustly patrol the borders.
“The government’s policy is clear. We do not want to be the gateway for smuggling networks into the European Union,” Mitarachi said. “We have denied hundreds of millions of euros from the smugglers of human pain, who operate to the east of our country. Our country has land and sea borders.”
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Elena Becatoros, The Associated Press