LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A five-year-old child and two women died from hypothermia on the Greek island of Lesbos on Wednesday after crossing the Aegean from Turkey in freezing weather, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on Thursday.
They were among more than 800 refugees, many of them Syrian families, who reached Lesbos on Wednesday aboard nearly 20 boats, battered by wind and snow as temperatures plunged below zero Celsius, IFRC spokeswoman Caroline Haga said.
"These needless deaths are shameful – we must establish safer ways for people to escape conflict, persecution and poverty," Karen Bjornestad, head of the IFRC in Greece, said in a statement.
"Death should not be the result of a basic human desire to live in safety and find a future."
Thousands of refugees, mainly Syrians fleeing the war, have braved rough seas to make the short but precarious journey from Turkey to Greece's eastern islands, mainly in flimsy and overcrowded inflatable boats.
Despite choppy seas and wintry weather which add to the dangers of the journey, 10 to 15 boats a day are arriving on Lesbos at present, the IFRC said.
Haga said that on Wednesday the IFRC vehicles got stuck in snow on the way to the north part of the island where most migrants arrive.
The boat on which the child and two women who died were traveling had problems with the engine, so the journey across the Aegean Sea, which normally takes at least two hours, was longer than usual, she said.
"Normally all the boats that come are full of water because the sea is quite rough," Haga told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Athens.
"They sit there for a long time and they don't have proper clothes and they're completely wet when they arrive."
IFRC staff treated other hypothermia cases and managed to save another woman's life.
Haga said the nationality of the child and the women who died had not yet been determined.
The Turkish coastguard said earlier that 12 bodies were found on Turkey's west coast on Tuesday and 26 people were rescued after a boat carrying migrants bound for Greece capsized.
(Reporting by Magdalena Mis, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)