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Greek Parties Halt Election Campaign After Dozens of Migrants Drown

At least 79 bodies have been recovered in one of the deadliest shipwrecks in Greek waters this year.

ATHENS — Greek parties halted pre-election campaigning on Wednesday after dozens of migrants drowned in a deadly shipwreck off Greece’s southern Peloponnese peninsula.

At least 79 bodies were recovered by Wednesday afternoon and more were feared missing after an overloaded fishing boat en route to Italy capsized and sank.

More than a hundred people have been rescued so far and hundreds of others are thought to be missing, according to initial reports.

All of the political parties sent representatives to the region where the migrants were rescued. With the country’s election just 11 days away, the parties issued separate statements that their pre-election gatherings and speeches would be halted.

Greece is currently led by a caretaker government ahead of national elections on June 25.

Caretaker Prime Minister Ioannis Sarmas announced a three-day period of national mourning effective until Friday at midnight. Pre-election campaigning, as well as a political debate scheduled for tomorrow, is postponed.

“The priority now is to save as many lives as possible,” said New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is expected to return to the PM’s office after the election, as he maintains a significant lead in polls. “This new incident, however, dramatically demonstrates that migration remains a problem that requires a coherent European policy,” he said.

Migration and border security have been some of the key issues in Greece’s pre-election agenda.

The country has been at the forefront of Europe’s migration crisis since 2015, when hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle East, Asia and Africa traveled thousands of miles across the Continent hoping to claim asylum. 

Late last month, the EU urged Greece to launch a probe into its own alleged illegal deportations.  

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, called on governments to cooperate to increase safe pathways and find collective solutions to address these flows.

“Only sadness and anger after another deadly tragedy at sea in the Mediterranean,” he posted on Twitter. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen echoed a similar message calling for cooperation between member states and third countries to prevent such tragedies.

According to the International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project, at least 1,166 migrants lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean since the beginning of this year.

“This is a human tragedy, which illustrates in the saddest way the desperation of those seeking asylum in Europe,” left-wing Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said.

A spokesperson for the Shipping Ministry said that the rescue operations will continue into the night with the assistance of a C-130 airplane and are expected to last for days.