At least 16 migrants have died in an accident in Greece after their boat got overturned near the island of Paros in the central Aegean Sea.
According to the country’s coastguard, this is the third maritime disaster involving migrants this week.
It has deployed air and sea assets to the area while authorities are scrambling for a search and rescue operation.
Pinning the accidents on trafficking gangs, Giannis Plakiotakis, Greece’s shipping minister, said “The gangs are indifferent to human life, stacking dozens of people, without lifejackets, in vessels which do not conform to the most basic of safety standards.”
He also attacked Turkey, saying Ankara “lets smugglers act unchecked.”
Smugglers operating from Cesme and Bodrum on the Turkish coast are packing migrants in yachts to send them to Italy using new, more dangerous routes.
Rivals Greece and Turkey regularly spar over the issue of migrants, with Athens accusing Ankara of turning a blind eye to people attempting to cross into EU member Greece and Turkey denying the charges.
“This shipwreck is a painful reminder that people continue to embark on perilous voyages in search of safety,” said Adriano Silvestri, the UNHCR’s assistant representative in Greece.
The UNHCR estimates that more than 2,500 people have died or gone missing at sea as they tried to reach Europe from January through November this year.
Greece is one of the main routes into the European Union for migrants and refugees from Africa, the Middle East, and beyond.
However, the flow has tapered off since 2015-2016, when more than a million people traversed the country to other EU states.
(With inputs from agencies)