Three girls and a woman died after a dinghy transporting migrants from the coast of Turkey sank near Chios on Tuesday, Greek authorities said.
Three rescue helicopters, two coast guard vessels, and at least six nearby private boats took part in rescuing another 22 on the boat – 14 men, seven women, and a child – and at least one person who went missing.
“A large number of passengers was on the vessel. That fact, in combination with adverse weather conditions, led to the detachment of the boat floor,” the Greek coast guard said, noting that none of the passengers wore life jackets.
In a tweet, Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said the dead children ranged in age from 3 to 14. He initially reported that all of the passengers who died were minors.
The minister accused the Turkish government of failing to observe its 2016 agreement with the European Union to try to keep asylum-seekers from setting out for EU territory from Turkey.
“The Turkish authorities must do more to prevent exploitation by criminal gangs at source. These journeys should never be allowed to happen,” Mitarachi wrote.
Turkey, which hosts about 4 million refugees, counters that the EU has been slow to deliver on promises of financial support.
Greece was the main entry point for refugees and migrants entering the European Union during a 2015-16 period of mass migration. The number of arrivals has dropped sharply over the past two years in part due to tougher policing measures.
Greece is seeking EU support for tougher policing at the eastern and southern borders of the 27-nation bloc, including funds to extend border walls.