Four migrants, including children, drown in Greece after boat sinks

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Migrants disembark a Hellenic Coast Guard vessel after being rescued at open sea, on the island of Chios

ATHENS – Four migrants, three of them children, drowned on Tuesday after a boat in which they and 23 others were trying to cross from Turkey to Greece sank, the Greek coast guard said.

Greece is one of the main routes into the European Union for asylum-seekers crossing from Turkey in flimsy, overcrowded rubber boats. But the number of arrivals has fallen sharply in recent years and deadly shipwrecks have become rare.

The boat sank off the Greek island of Chios where strong winds were blowing, a coast guard statement said.

Twenty-two people were rescued and one person is believed to be missing, it said. Their nationalities were not immediately made public.

“The boat in question had sailed from the Turkish coast loaded with a large number of passengers. This fact, in combination with the adverse weather conditions, led to the detachment of the hull,” the coast guard said.

Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi had tweeted earlier that four children had drowned.

“This is the reality of the exploitation of migrants by criminal gangs in the Aegean,” Mitarachi wrote.

“Unscrupulous smugglers endangering lives in overcrowded, non-seaworthy boats off Chios,” he added, posting a picture of an inflatable dinghy at sea, apparently the one involved in Tuesday’s incident.

Ten vessels and two helicopters assisted in the rescue operation, the coast guard said.

Nearly 1 million people, mainly Syrian refugees, arrived in the EU in 2015 after crossing to Greek islands close to Turkey.

About 6,500 asylum-seekers have arrived in Greece this year, most through its northerneastern land border with Turkey, according to data by the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.

(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris and Angeliki Koutantou; editing by Mark Heinrich)