At least eight migrants, including five children, have drowned, while 34 others are missing, after their boat sank, off the coast of the Greek island of Lesbos.
An extensive search was underway off a Greek island on Thursday for at least 34 people missing after their boat sank in one of the largest maritime disasters since a massive refugee influx began this year.
Five children, two men and one woman were known to have drowned after the wooden boat, crammed with more than 280 people, sank near the island of Lesbos on Wednesday. Eight more people drowned at two other locations, bringing the day’s total dead to 16.
Some 242 people were safely plucked out of the sea after their boat sank about 3 kilometres (1.9 miles) north of Lesbos in rough seas, the coastguard said.
At least 15 children between the ages of three months and ten years were taken to hospital with hypothermia, according to the UN refugees agency, UNHCR.
More than 500,000 refugees and migrants have entered Greece through its outlying islands since January, travelling on to central and northern Europe as part of the biggest humanitarian crisis on the continent in two decades.
Lesbos, located less than 10 km from the coast of Turkey, has been a primary gateway for thousands of migrants crossing the European Union’s outermost border. There has been a surge recently as migrants attempt to beat the worsening weather that makes sea crossings more dangerous.
Refugees report that smugglers now offer “discounts” of up to 50 percent on tickets costing from 1,100 to 1,400 euros ($1,206 to $1,536) to make the journey on inflatable boats in bad weather, the UNHCR said.