Sea catastrophes involving immigrants trying to sneak into Greece are worsening this spring, with three more – including a child – dying when their boat crashed on rocks off Rhodes.
That was overshadowed by the sinking of a boat carrying as many as 950 illegal immigrants off Libya that was heading to Italy, another popular spot for those who want desperately to flee Africa and the Mideast to get into the European Union.
Coast Guard officials on Rhodes said they recovered the bodies of a man, a woman and a child and rescued another 90 immigrants after their wooden sailing boat struck rocks near the island’s main port shortly after 9 a.m. on April 20.
Twenty-seven of the survivors were taken to a local hospital for first-aid treatment while the rest were said to be in good health. Most of the migrants were of Syrian origin, Kathimerini said, and had sought to cross into Greece from neighboring Turkey.
TV coverage of the rescue operation showed migrants huddled on the wreckage of their boat, which was smashed when it hit the rocks, while Coast Guard officials tried to reach them amid choppy waters.
Dozens of residents joined the rescue effort, wading into the waters off Zefyros, close to the main port of Rhodes, and later offering clothes to the migrants.
Stathis Samaras, the head of the union representing Dodecanese Coast Guard officers, told Kathimerini that the situation could have been much worse. “If we had not mobilized as quickly as we did, if coast guard vessels had not arrived immediately, and citizens’ boats, as well as the dozens of people we had helping on the shore, we probably would have had more deaths.”
Despite the dangers, immigrants continue trying to get to Greece to seek asylum or use the country as a jumping-off point for other EU countries.
Coast Guard officials said arrival tripled in the first three months of this year compared to the same period in 2014 as Civil War in Syria and ISIS on the rampage in the Mideast is sending terrified people scurrying to Europe.
A total of 10,445 immigrants were detained between January 1 and March 31 compared to 2,863 in the same period in 2014.