ANKARA: Up to 60 migrants may have been trapped in a boat that sank in an eastern lake last week, Turkey’s interior minister said on Wednesday.
Turkey launched a search-and-rescue mission involving helicopters and boats after the ferry carrying migrants across Lake Van was reported missing on June 27.
So far, search teams have recovered six bodies.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, who travelled to Van to oversee the rescue operation, told reporters that authorities estimated the boat was carrying between 55 and 60 migrants when it went down in stormy weather.
Eleven other people were detained in connection with the tragedy, he said. A village administrator was removed from office for delayed reporting of the incident, he added.
Soylu said experts believed the sunken boat was under 110 to 120 metres of water. An underwater imaging system was dispatched from Ankara to locate the wreck, he added.
HaberTurk television said the migrants were believed to be from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.
Last year seven migrants drowned while 64 others were rescued when their boat capsized in the lake, which is situated along a major transit route for migrants coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. Turkey, which hosts about 3.7 million Syrian refugees, is a main crossing point for migrants trying to reach Europe.
However, Turkish authorities have intensified immigration controls near the border, and some smugglers transport migrants across Lake Van to avoid several police and military checkpoints between the provinces of Van and Bitlis.
Soylu said Turkey had detained 454,000 migrants last year. This year, Turkish authorities prevented some 16,000 migrants from reaching Turkey through the Turkey-Iran border and detained 4,500 others who managed to cross into the Van province.
Earlier this year, thousands of migrants arrived at Turkey’s border with Greece trying to cross illegally after Turkey made good on a threat to open its borders for those seeking to cross into Europe. The move triggered days of violent clashes between the migrants and Greek border authorities.
In the first half of 2020, around 30,000 Afghans and Pakistanis entered Turkey, according to interior ministry data. Last year more than 200,000 Afghans and 71,000 Pakistanis were caught as they tried to cross the country but the numbers have dropped this year because of the coronavirus outbreak
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