Woman drowns in front of grandchildren as island of Lesbos witnesses another day of turmoil and tragedy

Jamie Roberton

Former Health and Science Producer

By Vania Turner in Lesbos and Jamie Roberton: ITV News

A woman drowned in front of her devastated family as the Greek island of Lesbos witnessed yet another day of human tragedy on Friday.

The 65-year-old woman, from Iraq, died at the bottom of the dinghy after it quickly filled with water and was left stranded at sea for around two hours.

She died in front of her husband, son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren.

Witnesses claimed smugglers used violence to intimidate the group of at least 40 refugees onto the boat in chaotic scenes off the Turkish coast.

The victim's drowned body was wrapped in a Manchester United towel as aid workers desperately tried to console her traumatised family.

Another victim of Europe's refugee crisis; another body Lesbos' under-pressure undertaker must find room for.

The woman's grieving family surround her body which is wrapped in a Manchester Utd towel. Credit: Vania Turner/ITV News

Rising arrivals - and fatalities

This woman is the latest person to drown crossing the Aegean Sea in the past week.

A mother lost three of her children when a coastguard vessel crashed into the boat her family were travelling in on Thursday.

She has just one child left now.


number of people who have died making crossing from Turkey to Greece this year, according to UNHCR


number that have perished across the Mediterranean


number of refugees and migrants that have arrived by sea in Greece this year

And yet to many, the risks of this journey seem tame when compared to the threats posed by Islamic State and the Taliban back home.

No matter the weather, thousands of Afghans and Syrians arrive each day on this tranquil island in search of the safety and stability their countries do not offer.

'All we want is peace'

Forty-five people - many of them babies and young children - were lucky enough to land ashore safely on Friday.

Each paid €1,000 for the privilege of making that short yet perilous journey in a rickety wooden boat from Turkey to Lesbos.

"I want peace, safety - it doesn't matter which country as long as we are away from the war," Ali, 22, said as he arrived on dry land.

"It has destroyed everything. All we want is peace."

UNHCR: Urgent support is needed

A young refugee looks on after arriving on Lesbos. Credit: Vania Turner/ITV News

The UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) has seen a huge surge in arrivals in last two days as well as an increase in the number of fatalities.

The refugees are desperate to "beat the onset of winter" amid fears Europe's borders may soon close, aid workers say.

Up to 4,000 are estimated to be on the north coast of the island at present, with already overstretched reception and registration facilities now under intolerable pressure.

Speaking during a visit to Greece last weekend, UNHCR High Commissioner Antonio Guterres urged the European Union to provide "massive support" to help Lesbos cope.

Children are wrapped in foil blankets after arriving safely. Credit: Vania Turner/ITV News

UNHCR workers had to be evacuated from the crowded Moria registration site in the capital Mytilene on Thursday when violence erupted.

Fights broke out when a number of "single men tried to jump queues and force their way into registration offices", UN staff reported, with police called to deal with the disturbance.

The events of the last 48 hours have only heightened the need for increased resources, staff on the island say.

The maritime tragedy and the tensions on Lesbos underscore once again the urgent need to rapidly establish proper reception facilities in Greece for receiving, assisting, registering and screening all new arrivals.