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37 Migrants Die as Boat Sinks Off Turkey

  • VOA News

Turkish paramilitary police officers stand near a dead body of a migrant on the beach near the Aegean town of Ayvacik, Canakkale, Turkey, Jan. 30, 2016.

Turkish paramilitary police officers stand near a dead body of a migrant on the beach near the Aegean town of Ayvacik, Canakkale, Turkey, Jan. 30, 2016.

At least 37 migrants, including several children, died Saturday when the boat meant to take them to the Greek island of Lesbos sank off Turkey's western coast.

The death toll rose late Saturday after search crews found more bodies trapped inside the 17-meter craft. Rescuers were able to pick up 75 survivors.

The Turkish news agency Dogan said the migrants included people from Syria, Afghanistan and Myanmar.

Suspect smuggler arrested

Police arrested a Turkish man suspected of being the smuggler who organized Saturday's disastrous sea crossing.

He told Reuters news agency that he was on the boat but denied any wrongdoing.

"I didn't do it. I swear I didn't do it. I had six relatives on that boat," he said. "I had six relatives and I don't even know whether they are dead or alive. I was also on that boat." he said. "I swear I didn't do anything. I came here to go Germany."

Alarming situation

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that deaths of refugees and migrants crossing the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece were "increasing at an alarming rate."

Despite the cold weather this month, more than 20 times the amount of people are arriving in Greece than in January of 2015, a year in which more than a million people made the dangerous journey to Europe seek asylum, Jan. 19, 2016, Lesbos, Greece. (VOA/Hamada Elrasam)

Despite the cold weather this month, more than 20 times the amount of people are arriving in Greece than in January of 2015, a year in which more than a million people made the dangerous journey to Europe seek asylum, Jan. 19, 2016, Lesbos, Greece. (VOA/Hamada Elrasam)

Before Saturday's tragedy, according to IOM estimates, 218 people died this year on that eastern Mediterranean route and 26 others died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea on the traditionally more deadly route between Libya and Italy.

The winter cold and rough water conditions have not stopped the human wave of migrants seeking refuge in Europe.

Turkey struck a deal with the European Union last November to slow the flow of migrants in return for more than $3 billion in financial assistance.

Many of the migrants, looking for a better life, are escaping war and poverty in Middle Eastern and African countries.

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