Migrant crisis: 26 drown off Samos island near Turkey

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Media captionThe names of those who died are not yet known

Twenty-six migrants have drowned off the Greek island of Samos near Turkey after their boat capsized.

Ten of those were children, and it was the second migrant boat to sink in as many days. Seven people drowned off the island of Kos on Wednesday.

Another six bodies were discovered by the Italian navy in a sinking dinghy off the Libyan coast.

The deaths come as the Netherlands proposed sending migrants reaching Greece back to Turkey.

The nationalities of the latest migrant victims are not yet known. Most of those who risk their lives, packed aboard rickety boats, are refugees from the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The EU's Frontex border agency is helping the search for survivors off Samos.

The bodies found by the Italian navy are thought to be the first deaths this year recorded along the migrant route from North Africa to Italy.

Migrants and refugees arriving on the Greek islands would immediately be sent back by ferry to Turkey, under a Dutch plan aimed at solving the crisis.

Under the proposal, Labour party leader Diederik Samsom says that in return the EU would offer to take in up to 250,000 refugees a year currently in Turkey. The European Union said it was unaware of the plan, adding that it did not "push back" asylum seekers.

More than 850,000 people arrived on the Greek islands from Turkey last year.

The plan would need to be in place by spring, before the next surge in numbers is expected, he says.

Already some 46,000 have reached Greece in January, with 200 dying during the journey.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Bodies of those who drowned were brought to the harbour at Samos
Image copyright AP
Image caption The boat used by the victims to cross from Turkey to Samos was towed into port during the morning

On Wednesday, a draft European Commission report said Greece had "seriously neglected" its obligations to control the external frontier of Europe's passport-free Schengen zone. But Greek government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili accused the Commission of "blame games".

The Dutch proposal "to force a solution" to the migrant crisis came as the Swedish authorities said as many as 80,000 people who arrived there last year could fail in their requests for asylum and face deportation.

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Media captionGreece feels it is being blamed for a Europe-wide problem, reports James Reynolds

Swedish Interior Minister Anders Ygeman said charter aircraft would be used to deport the migrants but it would take several years.

Mikael Ribbenvik, head of operations at the Swedish Migration Agency, told the BBC that assessing all the asylum applications would be a huge task, requiring more government resources.

"A lot of people leave voluntarily and a lot of people abscond. And then we have a few people staying on who are impossible to remove because of identification purposes," he said.

'Realistic chance'

The Dutch plan, said to have the support of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, would depend on Turkey having the status of a safe country for refugees, which would mean that they could be sent back from Greece under UN charters. Only one EU country currently considers Turkey safe.

Diederik Samsom, whose Labour party is in coalition with Mr Rutte's liberal VVD, told Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant there was a "realistic chance" that a change in EU policy could be ready by March or April.

The Dutch government holds the EU presidency and Mr Samsom has apparently been working on the plan with Prime Minister Rutte since last month.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Sweden had the highest per capita number of asylum applications of any European country in 2015

The Dutch Labour leader said there had to be an end to the tide of makeshift boats arriving on the Greek coast. "The Aegean Sea has become a mass grave, 3,700 people died there last year," he told Dutch radio.

Mr Samsom said Turkey would be willing to accept the return of migrants and refugees, as long as the EU took in 150,000 to 250,000 per year. The Turkish prime minister is due to visit the Netherlands next month.

However, in an initial response to Mr Samsom's comments, a European Commission spokeswoman told the BBC that anyone requesting asylum on arrival in the EU would never be turned away.

Amnesty International condemned the idea as "morally bankrupt".

Which countries are in the Schengen zone?

Where Europe is failing on migrants

  • The 28 member states have not agreed on an EU-wide mechanism for relocating migrants, to ease the burden on Greece and Italy; only small groups have been relocated so far - and several states in Central and Eastern Europe refuse to accept migrants
  • The Schengen agreement on freedom of movement is in jeopardy - Hungary fenced off its borders with Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia; meanwhile Germany, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and France have also reimposed border controls
  • The Dublin regulation, under which refugees are required to claim asylum in the member state in which they first arrive, is not working effectively; countries are no longer sending back migrants to their first point of entry to the EU
  • Thousands of migrants - many of them Syrian war refugees - still arrive daily from Turkey
  • Processing of asylum applications is slow and there is a big backlog - so reception centres are overcrowded
  • Germany - the main destination for migrants - is rethinking its open-door policy, partly because of outrage over assaults on women in Cologne at New Year