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Refugees drown off coast of Greece's Lesbos

At least four refugees, including two children, drown while six others were rescued by the Greek coastguard.

The bodies of at least four refugees, including two children, have been found off the coast of Greece's Lesbos island after a dinghy boat carrying them capsized.

The Greek coastguard said the bodies were retrieved on Wednesday during a search-and-rescue operation, undertaken after survivors told them 11 passengers were missing, local media reported.

The operation, which also rescued six survivors, was assisted by Frontex, the European Union's border agency, according to the Ekathimerini news site.

At least 2,923 refugees and migrants have died in the Mediterranean Sea or are still missing so far in 2016, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

An estimated 1.3 million refugees and migrants reached Europe by boat last year, compared with more than 238,000 who have made the perilous journey this year, according to the UNHCR.

In March, the European Union and Turkey struck a deal to halt the flow of refugees and migrants to Europe.

That deal stipulates that rejected asylum seekers in Greece will be deported back to Turkey, while Syrian refugees will continue their asylum process from Turkey with the goal of being relocated to Europe.

As a result of the EU-Turkey agreement, Balkan countries sealed their borders and left at least 57,000 refugees and migrants stuck in Greece, according to government statistics.

On Wednesday, the European Commission proposed more unified EU asylum rules, in an effort to stop people waiting for refugee status moving around the bloc and disrupting its passport-free zone.

The proposal would standardise refugee reception facilities across the bloc and unify the level of state support they can get, setting common rules on residence permits, travel papers, access to jobs, schools, social welfare and healthcare.

It would also grant prospective refugees swifter rights to work, but also put more obligations on them, meaning if they do not cooperate with the authorities or head to an EU state of their choice rather than staying put, their asylum application could be jeopardised.

The five-year waiting period after which refugees are eligible for long-term residence would be restarted if they move from their designated country, the Commission said.


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