Greece faces criticism over migrant deaths

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Associated Press

Posted on January 22, 2014 at 5:32 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 22 at 10:33 AM

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A top European human rights official criticized Greece on Wednesday following a deadly boat accident involving immigrants in the east Aegean Sea, some of whom claimed that the Greek coast guard was turning them away.

Ten people were still missing after a fishing boat crammed with immigrants capsized in the dark Tuesday near the tiny Greek island of Farmakonisi while being towed by a coast guard vessel.

The bodies of a woman and an 11-year-old boy were found, the Merchant Marine Ministry.

The United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday it had contacted some of the 16 survivors, who identified the immigrants as coming from Afghanistan and Syria, and claimed the boat was being led back toward nearby Turkey.

The Greek Coast Guard says the boat was being led eastward to Farmakonisi after sailing past it.

"I am shocked and distressed by the new tragedy which occurred near Farmakonisi in which a number of migrants, including possible asylum seekers, have drowned or have gone missing in what appears to be a case of a failed collective expulsion," Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press.

"The Greek government has pledged last week to put an end to the illegal practice of collective expulsions and effectively investigate all such cases. I urge them to implement their promise."

Greece is a major transit point for illegal immigration into the European Union, and the country has promised to make the issue a priority during its current six-month presidency of the 28-nation bloc.

In Athens, opposition parties also demanded an investigation into the capsizing.

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