Death toll in Turkish migrant boat sinking rises to 54

A Turkish flag with the Beylerbeyi Palace and the Bosphorus Bridge in the background flies on a passenger ferry in Istanbul, Turkey, 9 July  2020.
A Turkish flag with the Beylerbeyi Palace and the Bosphorus Bridge in the background flies on a passenger ferry in Istanbul, Turkey, 9 July 2020. Reuters

The death toll from a migrant boat disaster in Lake Van in eastern Turkey has risen to 54, the governor's office said on Saturday, after three weeks of search operations.

The boat, which sank on 27 June, is believed to have been carrying 55 to 60 migrants, according to Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu. Five people have been arrested in relation to the incident.

Nine bodies were recovered from the lake on Saturday, bringing the confirmed death toll to 54, the governor's office said.

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Lake Van is near Turkey's border with Iran, from where migrants from Iran, Afghanistan and other countries regularly cross into Turkey heading west towards Europe.

Seven people died and 64 were rescued when a boat carrying migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan sank on the lake in December.

More than a million people reached Greece from Turkey in 2015-16. Numbers dropped sharply following a 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey for Ankara to take migrants back in return for funds.

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Earlier this year, tens of thousands of migrants tried to cross into Greece via land and sea borders after Ankara said it would no longer stop them.

Turkey, home to 3.6 million Syrians, the world's largest refugee population, had said it would open the frontier because it was alarmed by the prospect of another wave of refugees fleeing war in northwest Syria.