Migrants Told 'Deadly Lie' Before Boat Disaster

David Bowden, Senior News Correspondent

EU ministers are meeting today to discuss emergency measures that could pave the way for extending border controls within the Schengen zone to curb the flow of refugees.

Over a million migrants arrived in Europe last year, with 3,700 dying in the attempt to cross the Mediterranean and Aegean seas.

But that hasn't dissuaded many more from making the hazardous journey each week.

In the hospital mortuary on the Greek island of Kalymnos, there are the bodies of 35 refugees - 17 women, 11 children and seven men.

All of them drowned in the Aegean sea in the early hours of Friday morning, after the boat they and at least 26 other people were using to cross from the Turkish resort of Bodrum capsized when the engine failed.

The hapless migrants had paid €2,500 (£1,900) per person for a place on the vessel. They were told it was so safe that they would not need life jackets. It was a deadly lie. 

Among the survivors is Ismail Gul from Afghanistan. He lost his brother, his brother's wife, and their two children when the boat went down in choppy waters. Ismail likened the sinking to the Titanic, with women and children screaming in panic.

Cousins Mohammed and Irfan Masood are also safe - two more of the 12 Afghans who survived the tragedy. They lost a cousin and a brother in the tragedy.

The remaining survivors are Syrian and Iraqi.

Two men who are thought to be connected to the people traffickers in Turkey also survived and have been arrested.

One man, Irfan, attempted to save a fellow passenger in the icy waters, but after clinging to him for some time, could not hold on any longer and was forced to let go.

Local boat captain Mihalis Arvithis was called out with his vessel, the Anna Maria, to help in the rescue effort. On his own, Mihalis quickly rescued two of the refugees from the sea, but struggled with a heavy third victim for 20 minutes before dragging the man aboard.

The captain quickly set about trying to resuscitate the man, pumping his chest to try and remove the large amounts of seawater he had swallowed, but to no avail. The victim died on the deck of the Anna Maria.

Mihalis says he has not slept properly since the disaster. He recalls seeing a mother let her baby float away into the waves as she clambered to safety. For his own peace of mind he tells himself the child was already dead. But he cannot be sure.

The survivors say there was only room on the boat for 10 or 20 people. Yet they say the smugglers crammed on as many as 80 or 90. They believe there are still many bodies to be found.

As it is, all of those already in the mortuary have not yet been identified - and some, it seems, have no relatives from the sunken boat still alive to give them a name.