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Three-year-old refugee boy dies after boat struck by Greek coastguard vessel

A THREE-YEAR-OLD refugee boy drowned in the Aegean Sea yesterday after the boat carrying him and 33 other people was rammed by the Greek coastguard. 

The coastguard vessel was on a routine patrol around the island of Kos in the early hours of yesterday when it overturned the unlit migrant boat making its way from Turkey. 

All but the three-year-old and another man, who remains missing, had been saved by the time the Star went to press. Six people were in hospital in Kos. 

Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for Alarm Phone, an activist network providing support for refugees trying to reach Europe by sea, told the Star that while the activists were shocked by the incident, they were far from surprised. 

“In the past, the Greek coastguard has actively engaged in very dangerous manoeuvres against migrant vessels several times.

“There is also evidence of violent attacks against migrant boats — taking away motors, stabbing of rubber boats — as well as of push-back operations by the Greek coastguard, manoeuvres that push migrants from Greek back into Turkish territorial waters. 

“We call on the Greek government to allow people to move on freely from the Greek islands by taking ferries and flights to the Greek mainland and beyond. And we condemn every deportation of migrants to Turkey. 

“The fact that there is no legal status for refugees in Turkey and the mass deportations of Syrians in July 2019 show that Turkey is far from being a safe third country.” 

Greece has come under intense scrutiny recently after human rights organisations highlighted severe overcrowding and dire conditions inside migrant and refugee centres on the country’s islands. 

New right-wing Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has also launched at least two mass eviction operations, seeking to remove hundreds of refugees from squats in the central Athens neighbourhood of Exarchia, since he came to power in July.

Last week, he compared the refugee crisis to the ancient Persian invasion of Greece in 480BC. 

Speaking at an event marking next year’s 2,500th anniversary of the Battles of Thermopylae and Salamis, Mr Mitsotakis said: “In our times, the challenges are different.

“Waves of refugees and migrants are now besieging countries. The crisis is not just about borders and economies. It is also about the environmental threat.”

The Greek parliament is set to vote on new asylum legislation today which, according to the Greek Council for Refugees, “violates international, EU, national law and the principle of non-refoulement.”

Meanwhile, the European Union has still not provided a port of safety to the Ocean Viking — an NGO migrant rescue ship operated by French charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) which rescued 104 people on October 18 — four days after the crew asked the Maltese and Italian governments for help. 

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