Rescuers pulled 24 bodies from the sea at the mouth of Istanbul’s Bosphorus strait yesterday and rescued seven people after the sinking of a boat carrying migrants including children, the Turkish Coastguard Command said.

Tens of thousands of migrants from Africa, the Middle East and beyond pack into often unsafe boats each year and thousands of them drown in their efforts to enter the European Union through coastal states.

The boat, which capsized, was loaded with 42 Afghan illegal migrants, including 12 children and seven women, along with a Turkish captain, the Hurriyet news website reported. It was believed to have been heading for Bulgaria or Romania, but it was unclear where it set to sea.

Bodies covered in blankets were laid on a jetty on the European side of Istanbul’s Bosphorus strait, a Reuters witness said.

“They had life jackets. But there were bodies everywhere. Babies, children... We pulled out 15-20 bodies,” Hurriyet quoted fisherman Kadir Sert as saying.

Seven coastguard vessels and a helicopter were continuing search operations in the Black Sea, some five kilometres north of the Bosphorus, the coastguard said in a statement.

Most of the migration to Europe happens via the Mediterranean Sea and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said last week that an estimated 3,200 migrants had died attempting to cross the Mediterranean this year.

“Many of them [are] victims of ruthless criminal gangs seeking to profit from the misery of men, women and children fleeing conflict and oppression,” the IOM said in a statement on its website.

Some 150,000 “irregular” migrants, many of them from the most troubled nations in Africa and the Middle East, had arrived safely in Europe over the past 10 months, it said.

The numbers of migrants have increased since “Arab Spring” uprisings triggered unrest across North Africa and civil war in Syria.

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