The International Organization for Migration (IOM) warned on Friday that migrant deaths on the Aegean Sea route were increasing at an alarming rate.
The statement came following two fatal shipwrecks this week off the Greek islands of Kos and Samos, where more than 30 people died including 15 children according to the IOM, who believes more victims are missing.
“The deaths on this route are increasing at an alarming rate. Just looking at my notes from the last few briefings, two weeks ago, we reported 50 had died on this route, a week later 95, a few days after that almost 160, so it’s doubling almost every time I come here and as of today 218. As point reference, there weren’t this many deaths on the Aegean side of the Mediterranean last year until the middle of September,” a spokesman for the IOM, Joel Millman, said.
The victims and survivors from Thursday’s shipwreck are all Kurds and Iraqis according to the IOM, who reported that a survey from this week of migrants and refugees arriving in Greece revealed that 90 percent were from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan.
The IOM said that they were alarmed by the size of the boat that sank on Thursday, which was made of wood and had 65 migrant passengers though it was designed to carry only 30 people.
Millman added that the severe overcrowding of the ships could mean smugglers believe that the Aegean Sea route will not remain open much longer.
“Clearly something has changed because these boats are less sea worthy and they seem to be leaving packed in greater numbers, so that speaks to perhaps a panic in the market that this is not going to last much longer,” he said.
More than 900,000 people fleeing Syria, Afghanistan and other war-torn or impoverished countries arrived in Greece from Turkey last year, often risking the short but dangerous sea crossing in overloaded boats.
The inflow has continued unabated through the winter months despite the cold conditions and choppy sea, with about 2,000 people landing on Greece’s islands a day, according to data by the United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR.
The 218 deaths on the route linking Turkey to Greece in the first four weeks of January 2016 are almost four times those recorded last year through mid-August. During the whole of 2015, some 805 migrants and refugees perished in these waters.