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39 Refugees, Including 5 Children, Drown At Sea

It comes just days after 26 other refugees drowned trying to make the same journey from Turkey to Greece.

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Updated on

At least 39 migrants from the Middle East, including at least five children, drowned Saturday trying to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece, Turkish coastguard officials said. More than 60 others were rescued from the seas.

Officials told the local Andalou news agency that they expected the death toll to rise as they continued to search the capsized boat and nearby shores.

The boat was headed for Lesbos, a Greek island close to Turkey's coastline.

Pictures from the scene showed the bodies of children and adults lying motionless on the rocky Turkish coastline, as officials worked to load them into bags.

According to the coast guard, their wooden boat set off from near Bademli, a village in Çanakkale province in Turkey, before running into rough seas where it became damaged, capsized, and sank.

The tragedy comes only days after 26 refugees drowned when their boat capsized just off the coast of the Greek Island of Samos.

On Friday the International Organization for Migration (IOM) released a report estimating that 55,528 migrants and refugees crossed, or attempted to cross, the Mediterranean to enter Greece in the first 28 days of 2016 – nearly 2,000 a day.

Of this number, around 244 have died at sea. The total deaths on Mediterranean Sea routes were 12 in January 2014 and 82 in January 2015, according to the IOM.

The high death toll has much to do with the harsh winter weather conditions and strong winds in the area. However, activists have also observed a new trend of squeezing more than twice as many people onto the small boats and rafts as the vessels can hold.

"These appalling tragedies continue to happen because most people fleeing war, persecution, and extreme poverty do not have legal and safe alternatives to travel to places where they can find safety," William Spindler, a spokesperson for the U.N. Refugee Agency told BuzzFeed News in a statement. "More predictable, organized, and safe movements of refugees need to be organized in order to avoid these tragedies."

Spindler added that countries hosting millions of refugees in the Middle East and Africa also "need massive help in order to stabilize refugee populations."

According to the IOM, 90% of this month's migrants arriving in Greece were from Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan.

CORRECTION

According to the IOM, the total migrant deaths on Mediterranean Sea routes were 12 in January 2014 and 82 in January 2015. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated these were the tolls for each entire year.

Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Ema O'Connor at ema.oconnor@buzzfeed.com.

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