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33 refugees drown in Aegean off Turkey en route to Europe

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Volunteers pull a raft packed with refugees as they arrive on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos, January 29, 2016. ©Reuters

At least 33 refugees, including five children, have drowned while trying to cross the Aegean Sea off Turkey’s western coast to reach Europe.

The Turkish coastguard said the refugees lost their lives on Saturday when their boat sank off the coast of Ayvacik, a town located across from the Greek island of Lesbos, Dogan news agency reported.

The coastguard further noted that it was conducting search and rescue operations where the vessel capsized.

It was not immediately clear how many asylum seekers had been on board the drowned boat. However, reports said 43 passengers had been rescued so far.

The refugees were believed to be of Syrian, Afghan and Myanmarese origin.

Those rescued were taken to hospital with hypothermia symptoms.

Refugees wait to travel to the Greek island of Lesbos, near the Turkish town of Ayvacik on January 29, 2016. ©AP

Turkey has become the main launch pad for those fleeing conflict-ridden zones, particularly Syria, to reach safety in Europe.

In November last year, Turkey struck a deal with the European Union to help stem the flow of asylum seekers to Europe in return for €3 billion (over USD3.2 billion) in financial aid.

More than one million refugees reached Europe’s shores in 2015, while over 3,700 people either died or have gone missing in their perilous journey to the continent, according to figures released by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Earlier this week, the IOM said 45,361 refugees had arrived in Greece by sea so far this year, 31 times more than the figure recorded for all of January last year.

Many blame major European powers for the unprecedented exodus, saying their policies have led to a surge in terrorism and war in those regions, forcing more people out of their homes. 

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