At least 18 people believed to be refugees and migrants have drowned off the coast of Turkey after their boat capsized on the way to Greece, Turkish officials said Sunday. They said that 15 others were rescued near the coastal town of Didim by the Turkish coastguard, which scrambled three boats and helicopter to hunt for the missing.
The latest tragedy comes a day before a conference in Brussels where European leaders will urge Turkey – the launch pad for many of the thousands of boats that leave for Europe – to accept mass deportations of refugees from Greece, which has been inundated by desperate people fleeing the war in Syria.
Greece is already struggling with more than 30,000 people that have entered the country since last year and on Saturday European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramapoulos said the country expected 100,000 more migrants and refugees before the end of March.
As the weather improves in the coming months, more and more people are expected to brave the journey to Europe, many paying hundreds of pounds to people smugglers to board dangerously overcrowded boats from Turkey, Egypt and Libya to Europe.
European nations are hoping to get a pledge from Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to stop the stream of refugees, hundreds of which have drowned in the waters of the Mediterranean since the beginning of the refugee crisis in early 2015.
Critics argue that the Turkish authorities are not doing enough to stop the boats leaving its territory, only intervening when the vessels capsize.
But while Europe has struggled to deal with the record numbers of migrants and refugees making their way west and north towards Germany, France and the UK, Turkey – along with Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq – has borne the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis, with 2.6 million refugees in the country alone.
Increasingly European nations are turning on each other as they struggle to deal with the crisis and an increasingly hostile public: on Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel blamed Greece for not being prepared for the influx while Britain has blamed France for the chaos engulfing the migrant camp at Calais.
Meanwhile, thousands of refugees have found themselves stranded at Greece's border with Macedonia, from which they hope to make it north to Germany and France. Macedonia has only let a handful of refugees cross into its territory and the remainder live in dire conditions at the border.