At least 18 people drowned and hundreds were rescued on Sunday as they attempted to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey into Greece, raising the total number of migrants who died along the treacherous route in the first two months of 2016 to more than 400.
Roughly 4,000 people died last year under similar circumstances, many of them children.
The drownings came as the European Union prepares for an emergency meeting this week to address the flow of migrants entering the region. Thousands of refugees are fleeing war and poverty across parts of the Middle East, Asia and Africa and many remain huddled in camps along Greece’s border with Macedonia.
More than 1 million migrants entered Europe last year, but several Balkan countries have bolstered their borders to impede the surge in refugees, with many passing through to the wealthier northern countries of the EU. Macedonia has slowed to a trickle those allowed to pass through the country.
Between 13,000 and 14,000 people are now located along the Greece-Macedonia border, while another 100,000 more are expected to enter Greece by the end of March, according to a statement made by an EU immigration official on Sunday.
Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras has called for Europe assist with the large number of migrants. More than 2,000 are estimated to enter the country each day, with about 35,000 refugees overall now staying in Greece.
“Europe is in the midst of a nervous crisis, primarily for reasons of political weakness,”Tsipras said. “It has to become completely clear that the immediate start of a process of relocation of refugees from our country to other states of the European Union is a matter of utmost urgency.”
EU and Turkish officials will hold a summit this week starting on Monday in an effort to find a solution to the crisis.
“This is the greatest refugee crisis we’ve faced since the second world war,” said David O’Sullivan, the EU ambassador to the United States, to the PBS NewsHour on Friday.