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Toddler becomes first casualty of refugee crisis in 2016

A MOAS rescuer helps a child after a refugee boat capsized off a remote Greek island (Robert Young Pelton/MOAS.EU)

A toddler has become the first known victim of the refugee crisis this year, when the dinghy he was in with 30 other migrants capsized off the shore of a remote Greek island.

Local fishermen where the first to find the “wet, bleeding refugees huddled” and alerted the Greek coastguard ensuring the survivors were rescued by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) charity.

MOAS said 11 people were injured as the dinghy hit the jagged rocks off the remote Aegean island, Agathonisi, including a three-month-old boy suffering from hypothermia.

AFP News Agency said a two-year-old Syrian boy had died, and his mother was among those who survived the dinghy capsizing.

There has been confusion over the number of people who survived, with MOAS saying 35 were rescued, while AFP putting the total at 39.

A quayside restaurant helped with the rescue sheltering a number of the refugees.

Although movement of refugees from Turkey has been reduced by the winter conditions, the high seas and numbing cold have not stopped some from making the five-hour crossing, said MOAS.

A MOAS rescuer with an injured girl on the Greek island of Agathonisi. Credit: Robert Young Pelton / MOAS.EU @2016
A MOAS rescuer with an injured girl on the Greek island of Agathonisi (Robert Young Pelton/MOAS.EU)

MOAS is a Malta-based charity, set up by Catholic couple Christopher and Regina Catrambone, dedicated to preventing the loss of life by providing professional search and rescue assistance to people in distress at sea or trapped on unsafe vessels, particularly migrants.

Christopher Catrambone, who founded MOAS with his wife in 2013 after 400 people drowned off an Italian island, said that “nothing can prepare you for the horrific reality of what is going on.”

“Today we came face to face with one of the youngest victims of this ongoing refugee crisis,” he said.

“It is a tragic reminder of the thousands of people who have died trying to reach safety in miserable conditions.”

A MOAS doctor treating one of the injured children after the refugee dinghy capsized off the Greek island of Agathonisi. Credit: Robert Young Pelton/MOAS.EU @2016
A MOAS doctor treating one of the injured children after the refugee dinghy capsized off the Greek island of Agathonisi (Robert Young Pelton/MOAS.EU)

“The light in all of this darkness is that there are so many individuals and organisations dedicating themselves to saving lives. As we have seen today, collaboration and cooperation is crucial to all of us being effective in our efforts.”

MOAS launched its life-saving mission in the Aegean Sea late last month in the waters between Turkey and Greece, aboard the MOAS Responder, which is fully-equipped to conduct mass rescue and post-rescue care.

According to the International Organisation for Migration 3,771 refugees died trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe in 2015.