Greece calls for more cooperation against smugglers

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called for better cooperation to eradicate smuggling networks, after 18 people lost their lives in the latest tragedy involving a migrant boat in the Aegean Sea.

“I think this is a time to really cooperate much more substantially in order to avoid these types of incidents occurring in the future, and to completely eradicate the smugglers who prey upon innocent people, desperate people who try to reach the European continent in vessels which are clearly not seaworthy,” Mitsotakis said on Thursday as he arrived at the European Political Community summit in Prague.

The bodies of 16 women, one man and a 15-year-old boy have been recovered after a boat sank off the coast of Lesvos island on Thursday, Greece’s Coast Guard said. Ten people were rescued in the water, while another 15 were found on the island, Xinhua news agency reported.

Victims and survivors were of African origin, local officials told Greek national broadcaster ERT.

A rescue operation was underway to locate those who remained missing, despite strong winds in the area. Survivors said the boat had been carrying nearly 40 people.

In another incident off the island of Kythira in southern Greece, 80 people were rescued and 15 were still missing on Thursday after a boat crashed into some rocks and sank on Wednesday evening.

“We express sorrow over the tragic incidents in our seas which resulted in deaths and placed many lives at risk,” Greek government spokesperson Giannis Oikonomou told a televised press briefing in Athens.

More than 1 million people have entered Greece since 2015, mainly through the Aegean from Turkey, seeking refuge in Europe from war zones and extreme poverty. Hundreds have perished in the sea. Of those who survived, most continued their journey to other European countries, until borders in the Balkan route to central Europe closed in 2016.

In March 2016, the European Union and Turkey reached an agreement aimed at stemming the influx of refugees. Although this worked to an extent, thousands of people still arrive on the Greek islands every year, local authorities say.

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