Migrant charity launches fast-response boat thanks to donor funding of €2m

Donations were received after an image of drowned toddler Aylan Kurdi shocked millions across the world

Migrant charity launches fast-response boat thanks to donor funding of €2m

The Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) vessel "Phoenix" arrives in the harbor of Messina, Sicily, Wednesday, July 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Carmelo Imbesi)

Tens of thousands of refugees are still trying to cross to Europe each week from Turkey via Greece, in spite of the dreadful winter conditions.

Last summer, Syrian boys Aylan and Galip Kurdi were among those who tried and failed.

After the bodies of the five-year-old and three-year-old were photographed washed up on the beach at the Turkish resort of Bodrum, the charity MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) received €2m in donations from people saddened by the boys' deaths.

That money is now helping to fund a new boat rescuing migrants in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey - at a time of year when the journey is even more perilous and terrifying.

MOAS director Martin Xuereb told Sky News: "We felt compelled after the deaths of Aylan and Galip Kurdi.

"There was a huge surge in donations and we felt morally obliged to do something in the Aegean so shifted focus momentarily from the central Mediterranean to the Aegean because this is where we need to be.

"During those few days we raised around €2m so we're using a significant part of those funds.

"The boat is totally privately funded and receives funds from all over the world - from people inspired by what we do and people who don't feel indifferent by what is happening."

The ship's two launches were named after Aylan and Galip.

The "fast response daughter craft", as they are called, are an invaluable asset enabling the crew from the mother ship Responder to speed towards migrant boats which need their help.

After the mass migration to Europe seen in 2015, the migrant surge has certainly slowed down over the winter, but the people smuggling business is still thriving.

Martin Xuereb has 26 years' experience in Malta's military and is the former Maltese chief of defence.

He said that MOAS has switched its assets because the vast majority of migrants are now coming through Turkey.

"In 2014 the central Mediterranean route was being used by Syrians - at the time they would fly to Algeria, drive to Libya and then take a boat to Italy," he said.

"In 2015 the great, great, great majority of Syrians used the eastern Aegean route because it's quicker.

"This route is also increasingly used by Pakistanis, Iraqis and Afghans. It's not only Syrians."

In 2015 around 900,000 migrants reached Europe this way.

The crossing is much shorter than the central Mediterranean travelling from Libya to Malta or Italy.

There are places where the distance between Greece and Turkey is just a few miles.

Mr Xuereb said: "In their minds it appears to be relatively simple.

"However in this part of the world during this period - December, January, February - the weather can be truly unforgiving and you think because you are in a sheltered bay in Turkey you think that the weather is safe.

"The minute you go out on open seas it's far from safe.

"We're convinced people take to the sea in these conditions because they feel they have no option so when they take the decision their perspective is very different form ours.

"They don't take the decision from the comfort of their home. They take the decision cause they feel they have no other option."

With around one million migrants travelling to Europe last year, some predictions say the figure for 2016 could be 1.5 million.

Mr Xuereb said: "I don't think anyone predicted such an influx in the Aegean in 2015.

"This was very much a new route. No one anticipated it would explode this way.

"What I know is it's highly unlikely there will be no need for MOAS this year."