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Migrant ship sinking off Greece: Dozens are dead and hundreds are missing

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

At least 79 people are dead after a boat carrying hundreds of migrants capsized early Wednesday off the coast of Greece.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Just over a hundred survivors were initially found. And while search operations continue, there's little hope that more survivors will be rescued. And thousands are protesting in Greece over the handling of this capsized boat and over European immigration policies.

MARTÍNEZ: We're joined now from Athens by Associated Press journalist Derek Gatopoulos. He just returned from the Greek port city of Kalamata, where many of the survivors were taken.

Derek, do they know or does anyone know what caused the boat to sink?

DEREK GATOPOULOS: They don't know. It's the subject of an investigation. What they believe happened is - because the vessel was being tracked before it sank, is that the large number of people in the vessel on the deck and below deck possibly moved to one side and caused the vessel to capsize. They think maybe as many as 700 people were on board, which would imply that 500 or so could be dead.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. What are the people that survived - what are they saying?

GATOPOULOS: Well, what we only have at the moment is secondary information from people, from aid workers and politicians and others who have been speaking to the migrants 'cause they have not been allowed to speak directly to reporters or people there. But what they've been saying is that - first of all, they're confirming that women and children were below deck, mostly, including other men. And most of the men were above deck. Well, many of the men were above deck. And they're among the survivors and the bodies recovered. So the assumption is and the belief is that these people have gone to the bottom with the ship.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. And Leila mentioned earlier thousands of people protesting in Greece over how this was handled. What is their main concern?

GATOPOULOS: Well, there are several reasons why people are protesting. Sometimes the - Greece has a general election coming up on June 25, so that's part of the the reason for the protests. But the other reason is that people fear - and not just people, but also aid organizations and sometimes political parties - fear that the crackdown on migration is causing smugglers to take more dangerous - to take more risks, essentially, so that they take long journeys on unseaworthy boats, as is in this case. It was travelling from Libya to Italy, which is a long journey, three days. And two-thirds of the way through its journey, as it passed through Greece, it capsized, mainly because it was an unseaworthy boat.

MARTÍNEZ: And in this kind of tragedy, I mean, you mentioned it - going to politics. How have the changing politics of migration in Europe affected the types of journeys these people try to make?

GATOPOULOS: Well, it does have a direct effect because the European Union hasn't been able to finalize a deal on how to share the burden, if you like, of migrants coming in, because they all come across the Mediterranean to southern European countries, and then they try to get to Central European countries. So the crackdown - the inability to figure out how to deal with this has just led to additional policing and building walls and patrols. So that has made the journeys to - across the Mediterranean more dangerous.

MARTÍNEZ: And quickly, that additional policing, that cracking down, is that reducing the numbers of migrants?

GATOPOULOS: It is, but it's making the journeys more dangerous. Those are the two main things.

MARTÍNEZ: That's the Associated Press' Derek Gatopoulos in Athens.

Derek, thank you.

GATOPOULOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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