6 drowned off Turkish coast as migrant boat heads for Italy

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish authorities say five children and a woman drowned after the Greek Coast Guard intercepted a crowded boat carrying migrants from Lebanon to Italy and set them adrift in life rafts off southwest Turkey.

Two of the dead children were babies, according to a Turkish Coast Guard statement late Tuesday. A further 73 people were rescued and five are still missing.

In a statement, the Greek Coast Guard said it “categorically denies” the Turkish claims of its “alleged involvement in an alleged pushback incident that resulted in the death of six immigrants in the sea area of Marmaris, within Turkish territorial waters.”

The Turkish coast guard said it is still searching for two more missing children and three men in the sea between Turkey’s Marmaris and the Greek island of Rhodes, Turkey’s Coast Guard said.

According to the Turkish coast guard statement, the 15-foot boat left Tripoli in Lebanon on Sept. 10 destined for Italy. The survivors said that their fuel ran out near Rhodes and they called for assistance from the Greek authorities.

They reportedly claimed they were taken aboard a Greek Coast Guard boat, where their valuables were taken and they were placed on four lift rafts close to Turkish territorial waters and set adrift.

Turkey and migrant rights bodies frequently accuse Greece of conducting pushbacks – summary and illegal deportations of new arrivals back to Turkey without allowing them to apply for asylum. Athens denies the claims and says it robustly protects its borders.

Turkish authorities said they were alerted to the group shortly after midnight on Tuesday and initially discovered 66 people drifting on three rafts.

Told of another raft by the rescued people, the coast guard dispatched a plane, a helicopter and another boat. They found seven survivors and the six bodies on the fourth raft and were informed of the missing people.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu later tweeted a video of the rescue and identified two of the dead children as siblings Asim, 9 months, and Abdulvahap, 4. The video showed two men swimming toward the Turkish Coast Guard dragging children’s bodies behind them. Soylu blamed Europe and Greece for “these massacres.”

More than 33,400 “irregular migrants” have been captured so far this year, according to the Turkish Coast Guard. The figure for the whole of last year was 12,600. Prior to Tuesday’s incident, 11 had died.


Associated Press writer Derek Gatopoulos contributed to this report from Athens