Helicopters evacuated 12 people, including three sick children, from a tiny island near the Turkish coastal town of Dikili in Izmir province, said state-run Anadolu news agency. A number of local fishing boats also came to the rescue of others left marooned as coast guard ships could not navigate the treacherous rocky area.

There was no information if there were any fatalities or the nationalities of those rescued, although it is believed they were attempting to reach Greece, according to an AP report.

More than a million people arrived in Europe during 2015, which represents the largest influx of refugees coming into the continent since World War II. Nearly 3,800 migrants have died in the attempt, losing their lives in the Mediterranean Sea when their overcrowded boats sank.

On 9 December, at least six Afghan children, including a baby, died after an inflatable boat carrying refugees sank in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Turkey.

Turkish coastguards recovered the bodies of the dead children although more were still reported missing. The rubber dinghy was said to heading for the Greek island of Chios. The coast around Turkey's western province of Izmir is notorious for its fierce winds and high waves.

Four Turkish provinces – Canakkale, Izmir, Mugla, and Aydin – on the Aegean Sea facing the Greek islands are prime spots for refugees leaving Turkey for EU countries.

Over the past year, thousands have made short but hazardous journeys across the Aegean in a bid to reach northern and western Europe. Worsening weather conditions in the winter make the trip even more dangerous.

According to latest data from the International Organization for Migration, 800,000 refugees reached Europe via the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece, accounting for 80% of the refugees arriving irregularly in Europe by sea in 2015.