59 bodies recovered from Lake Van

After the sinking of a refugee boat on Lake Van at the end of June, 59 bodies have been recovered so far. They are refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

More than three weeks after the sinking of a boat in the province of Van, which was occupied by refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, rescue workers have recovered more bodies. Since the incident at the end of June, the bodies of 59 drowned people have been found.

Up to 100 migrants drowned in Lake Van on 27 June when the boat capsized in stormy weather. The boat lies in the middle of the lake at a depth of almost 107 metres. It was found only eleven days ago. By then, the bodies of thirteen people had already been washed ashore. Villagers had also found two survivors. They contradicted statements by the authorities that there were about 50 to 60 refugees on the boat and reported that it was massively overcrowded.

Five people were arrested during a preliminary investigation. However, there is no information available about the proceedings, as a confidentiality order was issued. In the meantime it has also become known that the boat belongs to the AKP district chairman in Gevaş district, Tahsin Değirmencioğlu. The AKP district chairman himself had called the authorities, as his nephew steered the boat and was the first to save himself to shore. The party official had called on the authorities to support him. Meanwhile, the man is in custody.

Van borders on Iran

The province of Van with its huge inland waters is located on the Turkish-Iranian border and thus represents the first point of contact on Turkish territory for people who want to flee to Europe from the wars in the Middle East and Asia. The border and the region are highly militarized due to the war. With the help of EU reconstruction aid, one military base was built next to the other at intervals of a few hundred metres. The military often works together with commercial escape helpers, especially with criminal gangs who expose refugees in the high mountains, thus profiting from the refugees' precarious situation.

Not the first disaster

On average between 1000 and 1500 people from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Central Asia come to Van every day. According to official figures, 40,180 migrants were apprehended at the border last year. A far greater number fall into the hands of traffickers. This latest incident is not the first disaster to occur on Lake Van. On 26 December 2019, seven people were killed when a boat carrying refugees sank on its way to Bitlis. 64 people were rescued with the help of villagers from the surrounding area. With a shore length of about 576 kilometres, Lake Van is one of the largest mountain lakes on earth.