By Ayla Jean Yackley
The Turkish coastguard on Tuesday rescued 330 Syrians adrift in the Aegean Sea after failing to reach Greece, as the number of migrants attempting the treacherous passage to Europe surges.
Members of the group said they had been travelling on eight small boats. They included dozens of children, at least five of them newborn, and women, some of whom were visibly pregnant.
“We are told Europe will welcome us, but the door is closed in our face,” said Abdul, 23, from Damascus. “We will try again every day to reach Greece.”
Several of the refugees said their boat had been stopped by armed Greek coastguard officers who ordered them to dump fuel, stranding them at sea.
A spokesman for the Greek coastguard, Nikolaos Lagadianos, said it “categorically denied” the allegations, saying an incident had taken place off the Turkish town of Bodrum, further south, but that the Greek authorities had not been involved.
Crisis-hit Greece has seen a dramatic rise in the number of people seeking refuge. The United Nations refugee agency said 124,000 had arrived this year by sea.
Most are travelling to Greek islands in the Aegean from the nearby Turkish mainland. Turkey is home to more than 1.8 million Syrian refugees escaping the four-year-old civil war.
One Turkish coastguard officer in the seaside resort town of Cesme said his crew had rescued 700 people in the past week, which he said was a record.
“There has been a calamitous increase, and we do not have the resources to meet their needs,” the officer said, declining to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media.
Most are refugees from war-torn Syria, but others fleeing hardship and violence in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran are also filling up the inflatable boats run by Turkish smugglers.