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Two women missing as boat with dozens of people sinks off Greek island of Lesbos

Published: Updated:

Two women were missing after a dinghy carrying dozens of people sank off the island of Lesbos on Wednesday, a Greek coastguard official said, as more migrants fleeing conflict and poverty attempt to enter Europe.

Thirty two people were rescued and a search operation was underway with the assistance of two helicopters and a Frontex vessel, the official told Reuters.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees used Greece as the main gateway to Europe through Turkey in 2015 and 2016, until a deal between Ankara and the European Union reduced the flow across the Greek and Turkish land and sea borders.

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Sea crossings on overcrowded boats are often hazardous and last month, the Greek coastguard found the body of a migrant near a half-sunken vessel on the Aegean island of Rhodes.

And in September at least three people drowned when a boat carrying migrants sank off the island of Crete.

Turkey hosts more than three million refugees and migrants, while tens of thousands of asylum seekers are still in Greece waiting for their applications to be processed, mostly housed in camps where conditions have been described as dire.

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Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said the EU-Turkey deal was being violated and human lives were being put at risk.

Citing those rescued, Mitarachi said a Turkish boat had responded to a distress signal but did not provide aid, instead allowing “an irregular crossing” through the EU’s sea border.

Turkey’s coastguard said it had intercepted a vessel carrying migrants in the area on Tuesday and had taken 31 people into custody.

Greece and Turkey are at odds over a host of issues and regularly exchange accusations over the migration crisis.