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Children among dozens of refugees found drowned on Turkish coast

Photos show young children among victims of latest desperate attempts to cross Aegean Sea to Greece
A photo showing the body of a man washed ashore in Izmir's Dikili district on 5 January 2016 (AFP)

The bodies of at least 36 people from Syria, Iraq and Algeria were found washed up on Turkey's western coast on Tuesday in two separate incidents.

The people, who are believed to have been refugees, were on two boats that sank due to bad weather as they were attempting to cross the Aegean Sea towards EU member Greece, the Dogan news agency reported.

Up to 26 people were found washed up on the shore near the resort of Ayvalik, Dogan said. One of the victims was a pregnant woman, according to the AFP news agency.

According to Turkish daily Hurriyet, the bodies from a boat packed with refugees were found washed up on the shore of a housing development, Marti Site, in Ayvalik’s Altinova neighbourhood after the boat left the nearby resort of Dikili.

Turkish authorities reported that the bodies of several children were among the drowned refugees, who appear to have been attempting to cross the Aegean Sea to reach the Greek island of Lesbos.

Images published by Dogan showed the small corpses of the children, fully dressed and wearing shoes, lying on the beach with their life jackets still on.

Video footage showed Turkish security forces lifting other corpses from the waves in the shallows on the shore.

"We heard a boat sink and hit the rocks," an unnamed eyewitness told Hurriyet. "I surmise these people died when they were trying to swim for the rocks. We came here to help as citizens."

In a separate incident, the bodies of 10 people were found off the resort of Dikili about 30 miles south of Ayvalik. after the boat they were on capsized, officials told Reuters.

Namik Kemal Nazli, Ayvalik’s district governor, told Anadolu Agency that the coast guard was still searching for more refugees and that the death toll could rise further.

Five Turkish provinces – Canakkale, Balikesir, Izmir, Mugla and Aydin – lying on the Aegean Sea facing Greek islands are prime spots for refugees leaving Turkey for EU countries.

Turkish medics carry the body of a refugee after she washed ashore on a beach in the Altinova neighborhood in the Ayvalik district of Balikesir after a boat carrying refugees sank off during their journey to Europe on 5 January 2016 (AA)

The tragedy is the latest involving people fleeing war and misery in the hope of finding a new life in Europe.

The images of the small bodies on the sand echo those of two-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, the picture of whose corpse lying face down on a Turkish beach in September 2015 sparked worldwide anguish at the plight of refugees trying to escape wars and unrest in Syria and elsewhere.

There were no details of how many children were among the dead.

Turkey, which is home to about 2.2 million refugees from Syria's civil war, has become a hub for people seeking to move to Europe, many of whom pay smugglers thousands of dollars for the risky crossing.

According to the UN’s refugee agency, more than 950,000 people in total reached Europe by sea in 2015. The onset of winter and rougher sea conditions do not appear to have deterred those attempting to make the crossing, with boats still arriving on the Greek islands daily.

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