Death toll from migrant boat wrecks in Greek waters increases to 23

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The death toll from two migrant boat wrecks in Greek waters this week - one of which prompted a dramatic cliffside rescue - has climbed to at least 23, the coastguard said Friday.

Five of the bodies were found at the island of Kythira, south of the Peloponnese peninsula, where a sailboat believed to have 95 people on board sank on Wednesday night, a coastguard spokesman told AFP.

The boat went down beneath a huge vertical cliff and survivors - mainly from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan - were hauled to safety with ropes and a construction crane in a frantic pre-dawn operation amid gale-force winds early on Thursday.

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Adverse weather conditions hampered the search for more survivors on Friday.

Another 18 people, most of them women, died when a boat carrying 40 people sank near the Aegean island of Lesbos.
State TV ERT said the group were Somalis and only ten of them wore lifejackets.

Greece, Italy and Spain are among the countries used by people fleeing Africa and the Middle East in search of safety and better lives in the European Union.

The Greek coastguard has said it has rescued about 1,500 people in the first eight months of the year, up from below 600 last year.

Officials note that smugglers now often take the longer and more perilous route south, sailing out from Lebanon instead of Turkey to bypass EU patrols in the Aegean Sea and reach Italy.

In December, at least 30 people perished in three separate migrant boat sinkings in the Aegean.

The precise death toll is unknown as some bodies are never recovered, or drift ashore only weeks later.

Greece has rejected persistent claims from rights groups that many migrants are illegally pushed back to Turkey without being allowed to lodge asylum claims.

Southern European nations - Greece, Spain, Italy, Malta and Cyprus - expect 160,000 asylum seekers to arrive on their shores this year, Greek Migration Minister Mitarachi told reporters last month.

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