LONDON — More than 40 people — including 17 children — died when two wooden boats full of migrants trying to reach Greece sank early Friday morning, as a continued flow of asylum seekers, even in dangerous winter weather, put new pressure on European leaders to address a crisis that seems likely to intensify again come spring.
The authorities said the two boats had sunk near Greek islands in the eastern Aegean Sea as they carried migrants from Turkey toward Greece. The Greek Coast Guard rescued dozens of survivors and was continuing to search the area by sea and air, The Associated Press reported.
Greece is the most popular entry point into Europe for hundreds of thousands of migrants from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. Almost 37,000 migrants are reported to have arrived in Greece and Italy by sea and land this month, according to the International Organization for Migration, 10 times the number in the same period last year.
In the first three weeks of this year, at least 113 people died trying to make the sea crossing to Europe, the agency said, compared with 94 for all of January last year.
Despite the evidence that migrants from the Middle East and Africa are continuing to flee war and poverty in their home countries and will strike out to Europe again in huge numbers this year, European leaders have taken no major new steps to curb the flow. Nor have they agreed on a comprehensive border policy or prepared for another influx that could rival last year’s, when more than a million asylum seekers reached the Continent, many of them headed to Germany.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls of France issued a stark warning in an interview broadcast on Friday about the future of a unified Europe, saying the very idea was under threat unless the Continent could protect its borders.
Speaking to the BBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mr. Valls said the Continent could not accommodate the enormous numbers of migrants and warned that they could destabilize European societies. “If Europe is not capable of protecting its own borders, it’s the very idea of Europe that will be questioned,” he said. “Europe has forgotten that borders are required.”
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