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UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is deeply distressed by the recent tragic death toll in Greece’s Aegean Sea. At least 31 people lost their lives in three separate shipwrecks between 21 and 24 December, while an unknown number are still missing.

More than 160 people were rescued by the Hellenic Coast Guard, with support from the country’s navy and air force, as well as merchant and private vessels. UNHCR commends the efforts of all those involved in bringing survivors to safety.

“It is heart-rending that, out of despair and in the absence of safe pathways, refugees and migrants feel compelled to entrust their lives to ruthless smugglers. More resolute action is needed to curb people smuggling and stop those who exploit human misery and despair. It is disheartening to see preventable tragedies like these repeating themselves. We should not get used to seeing bodies being recovered from the sea,” said Maria-Clara Martin, UNHCR Representative in Greece.

The first shipwreck took place off Folegandros island on 21 December, with 13 people rescued and the bodies of three men recovered. One survivor told the Hellenic Coast Guard that as many as 50 people may have been onboard the boat that carried them without any safety equipment.

The second shipwreck, north of Antikythera island, resulted in the loss of 11 lives, while 88 people were rescued. In addition, on Christmas Eve, a boat carrying at least 80 people capsized off the island of Paros, claiming the lives of 17 people, including a baby. Sixty-three survivors were rescued and brought to Paros island, where local authorities and island residents rushed to assist them with blankets, food and clothes.

UNHCR estimates that from January until the end of November this year, more than 2,500 people have died or gone missing at sea in their attempt to reach Europe, through the Mediterranean and the northwestern African maritime route.