March 6, 2020 / 1:47 PM / a month ago

Turkish coastguard rescues 120 migrants off western coast

DIKILI, Turkey (Reuters) - Turkey’s coastguard rescued around 120 migrants trying to reach a Greek island on three dinghies early on Friday after they said their passage was blocked by Greek coastguard vessels.

Drifting in the darkness in the Aegean Sea and packed into one of the dinghies stranded without a functioning motor, migrants shouted as coastguard vessels approached them off the coast of western Turkey’s Izmir province.

The migrants, including people from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and various African countries, held up small children to be rescued first by the crew of the coastguard vessel.

Last week, Ankara said it would no longer stop hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers on its territory from trying to reach Europe, after an air strike on Idlib in Syria killed 34 Turkish soldiers.

Since then, thousands of migrants have sought to reach European Union country Greece, either across the land border or by sea to various Greek islands.

Several migrants on two of the rescued dinghies said their boats’ motors were disconnected by Greek coastguard vessels to prevent them reaching the island of Lesbos, a popular destination for migrants some 25 km (16 miles) from Turkey’s coastal town of Dikili.

“They (the Greek coastguard) pulled us towards the Turkish part of the sea and left us there,” said Ahmed, from the Deir al-Zor region of northeast Syria.

“We waited for three hours. There was no one around, then we called the Turkish coastguard and they came and got us,” he told Reuters journalists accompanying the Turkish coastguard mission.

“WE DON’T HAVE ENOUGH MONEY”

Turkey became one of the main launch points for migrants taking the sea route to the EU in 2015, many fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa. The movement was curtailed by a 2016 accord between Ankara and the EU, which Turkey says Europe has not honoured.

“We don’t have enough (money) to survive in Syria,” said Yasmin, a three-month pregnant woman, also from Deir al-Zor. “We left Syria and spent some time in Turkey in order to go to Europe.”

One of those rescued by the coastguard said he was undaunted by his failed effort to reach EU territory.

“I will try. I will try again,’ said Afghan migrant Husein Hasanzade.

Additional reporting by Yesim Dikmen; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Gareth Jones

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