At least 24 migrants from Afghanistan drowned Monday when the boat ferrying them to Europe sunk off the coast of Turkey.
Turkey's coast guard rescued seven people from the waters near the Bosphorus Strait that splits Istanbul, but as many as 12 others may be missing. Rescuers were continuing to search with coast guard boats and a helicopter.
It was unclear how the boat sunk, but authorities believe it was headed to Bulgaria or Romania, and that the migrants had paid smugglers more than $8,700 apiece to try to reach Europe in search of a better life.
A Turkish fisherman, Emrecan Kolcu, said the migrants may have frozen to death even though they had life vests on.
"Around 8:30, we went sailing. Even before we cast a net, a warning came to the walkie talkie of the coast guard from another fisherman, a friend of ours," he explained. "He told us that he saw a corpse on the sea. We started sailing further. Afterwards we saw dead bodies. It was not possible not to see them anyway; everywhere was full of dead bodies. They had life vests on them. It was apparent that they did not drown, but froze in the sea. When we held them they were all stiff."
Tens of thousands of migrants from Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere each year are packing into often unsafe boats to try to escape their homelands. The International Organization for Migration says that about 150,000 such migrants have reached Europe safely in the first 10 months this year, but about 3,200 have drowned in numerous boating accidents.
The frequent rescue efforts are drawing the ire of at least two European governments. Britain said last week it would not support European Union search and rescue operations to save migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, while Italy said it is ending its search program that has saved the lives of tens of thousands off its coastline.