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Migrant Crisis: Nearly 50 Drown in 3 Days as Refugee Boats Sink

Greece's PM condemned Europe’s response to the refugee crisis, accusing leaders of “crocodile tears” after more migrants drowned in shipwrecks.

Greece's prime minister angrily condemned Europe’s response to the refugee crisis Friday, accusing leaders of “crocodile tears” after 22 people drowned in two shipwrecks.

Alex Tsipras expressed "endless grief" at the latest tragedies, saying they had left Europe shamed.

He was speaking as the migrant death toll in the Aegean Sea reached nearly 50 over the past three days.

The Merchant Marine Ministry said 19 people were killed and 138 were rescued near the eastern Aegean Sea island of Kalymnos, in one of the worst accidents in Greek waters since the mass migrant flows started fleeing the war in Syria.

At least three more people died when another migrant boat sank off the nearby island of Rhodes, and three more were missing. On the islet of Agathonissi, a fisherman recovered the body of a boy missing from yet another accident on Wednesday.

Nearly 600 people were rescued by the coast guard in the past 24 hours, while thousands more made it safely to the islands.

Image: Refugees, most of them Syrians, on a half-sunken catamaran nearing the Greek island of Lesbos.
Refugees, most of them Syrians, on a half-sunken catamaran nearing the Greek island of Lesbos.GIORGOS MOUTAFIS / Reuters

Meanwhile, the European Union remains at odds on how to deal with the influx, which has seen Greece has been a transit point for more than half a million refugees and migrants fleeing conflict in the Middle East since January.

“I feel shamed as a member of this European leadership,” Tsipras told the country’s parliament, saying nations were “passing the buck.”

"These are hypocritical, crocodile tears which are being shed for the dead children on the shores of the Aegean. Dead children always incite sorrow, but what about the children that are alive who come in thousands and are stacked on the streets? Nobody likes them."

He added: "I want to express ... my endless grief at the dozens of deaths and the human tragedy playing out in our seas. The waves of the Aegean are not just washing up dead refugees, dead children, but [also] the very civilization of Europe."

Four coast guard patrol vessels, a helicopter and three fishing boats helped rescue the survivors off Kalymnos, and nobody was listed as missing, the Merchant Marine Ministry said. The accident occurred shortly before midnight Thursday, when the wooden boat in which the migrants had left from Turkey took on water and sank in moderately strong winds.

Separately, local fishermen and volunteers on the Greek island of Lesbos rescued dozens — including children — from a half-sunken, overloaded catamaran.

Image: A boy cries out for help as a half-sunken catamaran arrives off the Greek island of Lesbos on Friday.
A boy cries out for help as a half-sunken catamaran arrives off the Greek island of Lesbos on Friday.GIORGOS MOUTAFIS / Reuters

Meanwhile, the flow of migrants trying to reach Europe via the Russian Arctic slowed dramatically Thursday, partly due to a shortage of bicycles to cross the border, a source who deals with them told Reuters.

People seeking asylum in Norway have taken to using bicycles to cross the border from Russia because pedestrian traffic is banned and drivers of vehicles are fined if they carry passengers across without the proper documents.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said would-be asylum seekers were collecting in the Russian town of Nickel, the nearest big settlement to the border post, now they cannot cross into Norway.

“There are more than 500 of the Syrians here. They are continuing to flow into Nickel," said the source.

"The local shops are empty of bicycles. No bus or taxi would take the Syrians to Norway because they do not have valid visas and the drivers would be fined by the Norwegians and stripped of their permits to work on international routes."

Migrants were staying in hotels and dormitories in Nickel, where the temperature was around freezing and a snowstorm has moved in, the source said.