At least 44 people including 20 children have died after their boats sank on their way from Turkey to Greece on Friday, with dozens of other migrants reported missing, coastguard officials in Greece and Turkey said.
The Greek coastguard said they had rescued 74 people after two boats ran into trouble off the Greek Aegean islands of Farmakonisi and Kalolimnos in the early hours.
They recovered the bodies of 17 children, 17 women and 10 men. A search operation, backed by a helicopter from EU border agency Frontex, was under way for dozens of people still missing from the boat that capsized off Kalolimnos.
Separately, the Turkish coastguard said they had found the bodies of three children on Friday after a third boat sank near the seaside resort of Didim, the Dogan news agency reported.
People fleeing war and misery in the Middle East and elsewhere – many of them Syrian refugees – are still arriving from Turkey in flimsy boats in their thousands every day, despite the dangers and the harsh winter weather.
At least 113 migrants have died in the Aegean already this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.
The IOM estimates that some 37,000 migrants have reached Greece by sea so far this year, hoping to start new lives in Germany, Sweden and elsewhere in the European Union.
On Thursday at least 12 migrants, including children, drowned off the Turkish coast as their boat tried to reach Greece. The Turkish coastguard rescued 28 people.
Turkey, which is home to some 2.2 million refugees from Syrias civil war, has become a hub for migrants seeking to reach Europe, many of whom pay people smugglers thousands of dollars for the risky crossing.
Ankara reached an agreement with the EU in November to stem the flow of refugees heading to Europe, in return for financial assistance.
Brussels vowed to provide three billion euros ($3.3 billion) as well as political concessions to Ankara in return for its cooperation in tackling Europe’s worst migrant crisis since World War II.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel – whose country took in 1.1 million asylum seekers in 2015 – was set to meet Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday, with the migrant crisis top of the agenda.
The outcome of the talks is not only important for Merkel, who faces intense pressure at home to impose a cap on Germany's refugee intake, but will also have resonance across Europe where public opinion is hardening against the record asylum seeker influx.