Despite the onset of winter weather, rough seas and icy winds, the narrow strait between Greece and Turkey continues to lure refugees and their children to their deaths.
Rough Times, Rough Seas
In the early hours of this morning, Christmas Eve, the Turkish Coast Guard received reports of an emergency at sea off Bademli coast in the Aegean Sea. Local news media states that a wooden boat filled beyond capacity with refugees had capsized in the high waves. From initial reports, 18 refugees in an attempt to reach the Greek island of Lesbos have drowned. Six of the dead were children.
For rescuers, such calls in the night have become routine since the refugee crisis began about a year ago. Few of the locals are shocked any longer. A kind of hopelessness has worn down any outrage.
Although winter here is mild by comparison to other nations further north, it's hard to overstress how treachous this crossing is during this time of year. Winter is simply not the time to travel between islands unless absolutely necessary. Since October, the local authorities have been warning the increased risks. That's not detered many migrant families from taking their chances with merciless seas and equally unforgiving weather.
Last nights' unfortunate news comes on the heels of any earlier tragedy only a day earlier. In that incident, four men, two women and seven children, all drowned when their boat sank off the tiny treeless island of Farmakonisi.
Earlier this month, on 9 December, in yet another incident, a rubber dighy heading towards the island of Chios sank, drowing six Afghan children, including a baby. The flimsy inflatible vessel capsized in strong winds and high waves.
In the same week, in apparently a seperate incident, the corpse of the 5-year-old girl washed up on the beach of Cesme, a Turkish tourist resort.
(Frankly, it's becoming harder and harder to keep track of the count. Some have suggested that the number of drownings is being greatly under-reported.)
A Year of Suffering and TragedyAccording to Greek media, an estimated 800,000 people have crossed from Turkey to Greece; among them, more than half — about 455,000 — are Syrian. Turkey presently hosts more than two million refugees from conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
The flow of migrants slipping across the narrow straits between Turkey and the Greek Island has only slightly tapered off since summer.
Even the most desperate refugee thinks twice about trying to make the crossing during the winter, with the unpredictable change of weather, the gale-force winds and the rough seas.
Smugglers are reportedly even charging half-rate for their services.
A spokesman for the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM), Joel Millman, said last week, that December has been a lethal month for those making the crossing. According to the agency's count, in the last two months, some 700 deaths have been reported, an average of seven deaths a day.
In a statement, IOM declared that this year will be remembered as "a year of human suffering and migrant tragedies." In the last 12 months, more than 5,000 women, men and children have drowned "in search of protection and a better life.”
* * *In memory of the children lost at sea, here are two songs sung by the PS22 chorus.