ATHENS/stockholm/washington - The bodies of 24 migrants, including 10 children, were discovered off the Greek island of Samos Thursday after their boat capsized, the Greek coastguard said.
Eleven people from a dinghy carrying 45 people were still listed as missing following the latest tragedy involving overladen migrant boats crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. Ten people were rescued unharmed.
Authorities initially said they had found 12 bodies but the number rose quickly as rescuers combed the waters for the missing. There were “five boys and five girls among the victims, while 10 people were pulled from the water unharmed, but in a state of shock,” a coastguard spokeswoman said.
The alert was raised by one of the survivors, who managed to swim to shore. Greek ships and two vessels from the European border agency Frontex took part in the rescue operation. There was no information yet on the migrants’ country of origin. Despite wintry conditions, thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa continue to make the treacherous sea journey to Europe, many paying with their lives.
Last week, 44 people drowned in a single day when three migrant boats ran into trouble in Greek waters.
On Wednesday, rescuers found the bodies of seven drowned migrants, including two children, after their boat sank off the Greek island of Kos.
The latest tragedy comes as swamped Greek authorities are under pressure from their European counterparts to staunch the migrant flow. The UN says more than 46,000 migrants have arrived in Greece so far this year, with 200 people dying during the voyage. Last year, Greece received over 850,000 arrivals.
Moreover, Finland joined Sweden on Thursday in announcing plans to deport tens of thousands of failed asylum seekers in a bid to contain the migrant crisis, as at least 31 more people died trying to reach the European Union.
The two Nordic countries are both struggling to cope with an influx of refugees and migrants fleeing misery in the Middle East and elsewhere — receiving amongst the highest numbers of arrivals per capita in the EU.
The Finnish government expects to deport around two thirds of the 32,000 asylum seekers that arrived in 2015, Paivi Nerg, administrative director of the interior ministry, told AFP. “In principle we speak of about two thirds, meaning approximately 65 percent of the 32,000 will get a negative decision (on their asylum applications),” he told AFP.
In neighbouring Sweden, Interior Minister Anders Ygeman said Wednesday that the government is planning over several years to deport up to 80,000 people whose asylum applications are set to be rejected. “We are talking about 60,000 people but the number could climb to 80,000,” he told Swedish media, adding that, as in Finland, the operation would require the use of specially chartered aircraft.
He estimated that Sweden would reject around half of the 163,000 asylum requests received in 2015. Swedish Migration Minister Morgan Johansson said authorities faced a difficult task in deporting such large numbers, but insisted failed asylum seekers had to return home.
“Otherwise we would basically have free immigration and we can’t manage that,” he told news agency TT. The clampdown came as 25 bodies, including those of 10 children, were discovered off the Greek island of Samos, in the latest tragedy to strike migrants risking the dangerous Mediterranean crossing in a bid to start new lives in Europe. The Italian navy meanwhile said it had recovered six bodies from a sinking dinghy off Libya — and in Bulgaria, the frozen bodies of two men, believed to be migrants, were found near the border with Serbia.
More than one million people travelled to Europe in 2015 — the majority of them refugees fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — in the continent’s worst migration crisis since World War II. Nearly 4,000 people died trying to reach Europe by sea last year, according to the International Organization for Migration.
As Europe struggles to respond to the unprecedented influx, a top Dutch politician said the Netherlands was working with some EU members on a plan to send migrants back to Turkish soil. The proposal would see asylum granted to up to 250,000 others already hosted by Turkey, Diederik Samsom said. But rights group Amnesty International blasted the plan, saying it was “fundamentally flawed since it would hinge on illegally returning asylum seekers and refugees”.
US failed to protect migrant kids: Senate probe
US authorities failed to protect undocumented migrant children in their custody when it released them to guardians who in some cases exploited them, a US Senate investigation found.
Republican Senator Rob Portman, in a prepared statement before a Thursday hearing on the findings, said the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) did not have proper procedures in place to protect undocumented children who entered the United States without an accompanying adult.
The Senate investigation was prompted by a case in Portman’s home state of Ohio in which at least six children from Guatemala were forced to work long hours on egg farms in Marion County.
Six people have been charged in the case, Portman said.
That crime could have been prevented if HHS had adopted commonsense measures for screening sponsors and checking on the well-being of at-risk children, Portman said.
The investigation exposed additional cases of children being exposed to abuse after being released, which are also under investigation by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Portman said.
“It is intolerable that human trafficking - modern-day slavery - could occur in our own backyard,” Portman said. “But what makes the Marion cases even more alarming is that a US government agency was responsible for delivering some of the victims into the hands of their abusers.”
Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration faced a barrage of criticism in 2014 after a surge of undocumented minors slipped across the southern border, in a humanitarian crisis that caused a logistical nightmare for American officials who struggled to cope with the influx.
At the same time, the administration was under pressure from immigrant groups and others to promptly process the unaccompanied minors so that they could move from government custody to family members living in the United States.
Despite the US government’s subsequent efforts to discourage the migration, a wave of undocumented families and unaccompanied children from Central America rose significantly late last year, according to US figures.
HHS has placed about 90,000 migrant children, most of them for Central America, with adult sponsors in the United States, Portman’s statement said.
The investigation also found that HHS officials were aware of the trafficking problem but did nothing to strengthen department policies despite having the funds to do so, according to Portman’s statement.
HHS officials did not immediately respond to an email asking about Portman’s allegations.
Thursday’s hearing will focus on HHS efforts to protect unaccompanied children from human trafficking.

Meanwhile, Sweden said it expects to expel up to 80,000 migrants whose asylum requests will likely be rejected, as another dozen people including children drowned off Greece Thursday in a desperate bid to reach Europe.
As the continent grapples with efforts to stem a record flow of migrants, Swedish Interior Minister Anders Ygeman said the mass expulsions of people who arrived in the Scandinavian country last year would require the use of specially chartered aircraft and be staggered over several years.
“We are talking about 60,000 people but the number could climb to 80,000,” he told Swedish media, adding that police and migration authorities had been tasked with organising the scheme.
Of the 58,800 asylum requests handled by Swedish migration authorities last year, 55 percent were accepted. Many of those requests were however submitted in 2014, before the large migrant flow began.
Ygeman said he used the 55 percent figure to estimate that around half of the 163,000 asylum requests received in 2015 would likely be rejected.
Sweden, a country of 9.8 million, is among the European Union states with the highest proportion of refugees per capita.
More than one million people travelled to Europe last year - the majority of them refugees fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan - in the continent’s worst migration crisis since World War II.

Most cross by boat from Turkey to Greece and the United Nations says more than 46,000 people have turned up on the EU member’s beaches so far this year, while 170 people died making the dangerous journey.
Flimsy boats packed with migrants are still arriving on Greek beaches every day, the passengers undeterred by Europe’s cold wintry conditions.
On Thursday, the bodies of 13 migrants, including eight children, were discovered off the Greek island of Samos after their boat capsized, the Greek coastguard said, a day after seven other bodies were found near the island of Kos.
With the influx showing little sign of abating despite the cold weather, many countries - including Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, France - have tightened their asylum rules in a bid to discourage new arrivals.
Reflecting the mounting tensions, Brussels on Wednesday blasted Greece’s handling of the crisis and warned it could face border controls with the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone if it does not protect the bloc’s frontiers.
Athens is worried its border with Macedonia will be closed, leaving refugees trapped in the country.
After having closed its border for several hours last week, Macedonia again blocked refugees from entering at its southern border with Greece for three hours overnight.
An interior ministry official said that was because 600 people were queuing at Macedonia’s northern border to cross into Serbia.
Several hours later the refugees were allowed on their way and the situation returned to normal. Some 3,000 people were on Thursday waiting at the Macedonian border on the Greek side, police there said.
Greece is not the only country under fire - Denmark has faced heavy criticism after its lawmakers passed a bill this week allowing authorities to seize valuables from refugees in a bid to deter new arrivals.
Some have likened the move to the Nazis’ confiscation of gold from Jews during the Holocaust, with Human Rights Watch denouncing the bill as “despicable”.
Neighbouring Sweden has seen the number of new migrants entering the country fall since it brought in systematic photo ID checks on travellers on January 4.
Concerns have been growing over conditions in Sweden’s overcrowded asylum facilities, however, and on Tuesday officials called for greater security the day after an employee at a refugee centre for unaccompanied youths was stabbed to death.
A young male allegedly attacked the 22-year-old employee, named by local media as Alexandra Mezher whose parents were from Lebanon, at a centre for youngsters in Molndal, near Gothenburg on Sweden’s west coast.
Her death has led to questions about conditions inside some centres, with too few adults and employees to take care of children, many traumatised by war.
Sweden’s National Police Commissioner Dan Eliasson earlier this week requested 4,100 additional officers and support staff to help counter terrorism, deport migrants and police asylum facilities.


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