12 Refugees Including Children Drown Off Turkish Coast

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A woman carries her child wrapped in an emergency blanket shortly after arriving with other migrants and refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the sea from Turkey on October 17, 2015.Credit: AFP

Twelve migrants thought to be from Syria and Afghanistan, including four children and a baby, drowned off the coast of Turkey as they tried to reach the Greek island of Lesbos, the Turkish coastguard said on Saturday.

Reuters television footage showed bodies covered by plastic sheeting being brought ashore on a coastguard vessel near the Turkish town of Ayvacik, a few kilometers (miles) from the Greek island of Lesbos.

A coastguard official said 23 people had been rescued, some by a Turkish fishing boat.

"The coastguard made an announcement saying a boat carrying Syrian migrants had sunk ... and we went to the area to help them. We pulled out six bodies," fisherman Sezer Simsek said, adding his boat had been able to rescue four people.

Thousands of refugees, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, make daily attempts to cross the Aegean Sea from nearby Turkey, a short but perilous trip by boat, often in rough seas.

Almost 400,000 people have arrived in Greece this year, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, overwhelming the crisis-stricken government's ability to cope.

European Union leaders agreed this week to offer Turkey cash, easier visa terms and a "re-energized" consideration of its EU membership bid, in an effort to secure cooperation on encouraging Syrian refugees not to head to Europe and deterring economic migrants from Asia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Istanbul on Sunday to meet Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and discuss the proposals. Erdogan said on Friday the EU had woken up too late to Turkey's importance in stemming the flow of refugees and accused it of insincerity.

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