A Greek island that has been a primary gateway to Europe for thousands of refugees has run out of room to bury the growing number dying in shipwrecks before they reach shore, the island’s mayor said Monday.
The island of Lesbos, which lies in the Aegean Sea about six miles from the coast of Turkey, has been a major portal for refugees and other migrants crossing into Europe as they flee conflicts and poverty in Syria and other parts of the Middle East and Africa.
At least 435 refugees have drowned in the Aegean as they tried to reach Greece from the beginning of this year through Oct. 29, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an intergovernmental body. About 90 have drowned there just in the past five days.
Lesbos Mayor Spyros Galinos told Greece's Vima FM radio on Monday that he is still trying to find places to bury dozens of bodies that are now in the local morgue.
"Yesterday we held five funerals, but there are still 55 bodies at the morgue," Galinos told NBC News. "Who could have anticipated such a carnage in the Aegean?"
More than 19 bodies were recovered from the Aegean in three separate incidents on Sunday alone.
On Monday, Greek authorities increased to 43 the death toll from last week's sinking of an overloaded wooden boat carrying more than 300 refugees and economic migrants from Turkey toward Lesbos.
The Greek coast guard said that rescuers have so far recovered the bodies of 20 children, 17 men and six women who drowned after the battered vessel capsized on Oct. 28. A total of 274 people survived the accident, which was the worst in Greek waters during the mass refugee influx from the civil war in Syria, which began more than four years ago.
The month of October saw an overall record number of refugees crossing the Mediterranean to Europe, despite the increasingly harrowing conditions at sea as winter nears.
The United Nations said Monday that 218,000 refugees made the crossing in October — nearly the same number as in the whole of 2014. The soaring arrival numbers last month brought to over 744,000 the number of people who have made the journey so far this year.
All but 8,000 of the refugees in 2015 have come through Greece.
The Greek coast guard said it had rescued more than 1,400 people in 39 separate search-and-rescue operations in the eastern Aegean over the weekend.
The coast guard said it had picked up 1,431 people near the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Farmakonissi, Kalymnos, Kalolymnos, Symi and Rhodes between Friday morning and Monday morning.