Seven children drown as boat sinks off Turkish coast

#Refugees

A total of 14 passengers died when a boat carrying migrants and refugees sank off Turkey's coast en route to Lesbos

A refugee, holding his child, arrives along with others on Lesbos earlier this week (AFP)
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Wednesday 11 November 2015 13:23 UTC
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At least 14 people, including seven children, drowned on Wednesday when a boat sank off Turkey's Aegean coast while trying to reach Greece, local media reported, the latest fatalities in Europe's refugee crisis.

The Turkish coastguard recovered the bodies from the wooden boat which was heading from the province of Canakkale to the Greek island of Lesbos, Dogan news agency said.

Twenty-seven people were rescued, among them a pregnant woman, and the survivors were said to be in good condition, Dogan reported.

Coastguard workers backed by helicopters were continuing a search for those still missing, Dogan said. It was not immediately clear how many were thought to be still at sea.

"The boat probably sank after hitting rocks. It was severely damaged and apparently started to take in water but they decided to go ahead anyway," Canakkale governor Hamza Erkal told Anatolia news agency.

"They apparently turned back after the boat took in more water but it sank before reaching the shore."

There was no immediate information on the nationalities of those on board. 

The latest tragedy came as European leaders were due to meet African counterparts in Malta to discuss the migration crisis with a sharp spike over the past year in the numbers of people setting out from Turkey for the European Union in search of better lives.

Turkey has surpassed North Africa as the main launching point for migrants heading to Europe, and currently hosts more than 2.2 million refugees from the war in neighbouring Syria.

An EU report on Turkey released on Tuesday was highly critical about the state of the rule of law and freedom of expression, but praised its "humanitarian support" for the refugees and said the EU had to step up its cooperation with Ankara to tackle the crisis.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR said last week up to 600,000 migrants and refugees were expected to cross from Turkey to Greece and onwards over the next four months despite the onset of winter. 

More than 650,000 migrants and refugees, mostly from SyriaAfghanistan and Iraq, have reached the Greek islands so far in 2015 using the eastern Mediterranean route, the International Organisation for Migration said on Tuesday. Of those, 512 people died. 

The picture of three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, whose body was found washed up on a Turkish beach in September after a failed attempt to reach Greece, horrified the world, pressuring European leaders to step up their response to the crisis.