German asylum talks falter as 15 migrants drown off Greece

At least 15 migrants seeking to reach Europe drowned off Greece.

Berlin: At least 15 migrants seeking to reach Europe drowned off Greece as political talks in Germany, the EU's top destination for refugees, failed to produce a consensus on how to handle the influx.

Two boats making the hazardous crossing from Turkey capsized in the Aegean Sea off Greek islands yesterday, leaving at least 15 dead, including six children, officials said.

The first shipwreck took place 20 metres (65 feet) from the island of Samos.

The bodies of 10 migrants found locked inside the small boat's cabin, six of them children, were recovered from the capsized vessel, the Greek coastguard said. The body of a young girl was found washed up on a beach, while 15 people were rescued alive, the coastguard said.

In a separate incident off the nearby island of Farmakonisi, rescuers found the bodies of four migrants after a boat said by survivors to be carrying 15 people sank en route to Greece, authorities said.

Despite the increasingly perilous conditions at sea at the onset of winter, refugees from Syria and other troublespots continue to pile into boats heading west, for fear that Europe is about to close its borders.

The latest tragedies bring the migrant death toll in Greece's waters in the past month to over 80, many of them children, according to AFP's count.

Germany is the preferred destination of most, but the country's ruling coalition is deeply divided over how to handle the influx.

Two rounds of negotiations between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of her two coalition partners ended yesterday with a breakthrough.

Merkel called the emergency talks after her Bavarian ally, Horst Seehofer of the Christian Social Union (CSU) party, threatened her with unspecified consequences if she did not take action to limit the number of newcomers arriving into Germany yesterday.

"Several points... Still need to be resolved including the issue of 'transit zones'," Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said, referring to a proposal to create airport-style processing points on Germany's borders to allow would-be refugees who do not fulfil asylum criteria to be moved out quickly.

More talks between Merkel, Seehofer and Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the Social Democrats who are in a grand coalition with the CDU/CSU, were planned for Thursday, Seibert said.

The vast majority of the up to one million people expected to arrive in the country this year are crossing the border from Austria into Bavaria.

While most Germans initially backed Merkel's open-doors policy for those fleeing war and persecution, a growing backlash has piled pressure on the chancellor and exposed rifts within her conservative bloc.

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