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Refugee crisis: Nine-month-old baby and 80-year-old man drown in the Aegean

Yesterday (16 Dec) a boat carrying around 85 people capsized off the northern shores of Lesbos leading to the death of at least two people, including a nine-month-old child and an 80-year-old man.

The Medecins Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and Greenpeace team who participated in the rescue operation report that the death toll was likely to be even higher.  

“It was overloaded, sinking at the back, and literally tipping over onto itself due to the massive amount of passengers,” says Kim Clausen, MSF Deputy Project Coordinator.

"When we arrived there were strong winds and the waves were at least one meter high and people were already in the water. What is needed to stop these deaths is a real search and rescue operation that is actively searching for these boats before they begin to sink.”

Aegean rescue operation

When rescue boats arrived at the scene yesterday the team quickly began working to save as many people as possible, handing out floating devices to those still in the cold water.

Survivors were transferred to a Norwegian Frontex vessel and other boats that had arrived to support the rescue operation.

Eighty-three people were finally rescued, most of them Iraqis, and transferred to nearby towns of Molyvos and Petra.

Many were in need of resuscitation or were treated for hypothermia by MSF teams at the arrival points.

Three medical cases were referred by MSF to the local hospital for hypothermia, among them a child, whose condition has now improved.

Safe passage

MSF is renewing its call for a safe and legal passage for people at the Greece-Turkey land border and is urging Greek and EU authorities to step up its search and rescue operations in the Aegean Sea.

“While European leaders discuss how to fortify their borders even more, children continue to die in the Aegean Sea”, says Aurelie Ponthieu, MSF Humanitarian Advisor on Displacement.

“A safe passage at the land border between Turkey and Greece would immediately reduce deaths at sea, but it seems that EU and Greek authorities prefer to keep observing the scene from the distance rather than provide concrete solutions to these tragedies”. 

Find out more about the European refugee crisis