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Refugee shipwrecks claim another 23 lives off Greece

LESBOS, Greece -- At least 23 people drowned in two new shipwrecks in the Aegean Sea Friday as thousands of Middle Eastern refugees and economic migrants sought to reach the Greek islands in rough seas, while the death toll over the past three days has reached more than 50.

The Merchant Marine Ministry said 19 people were killed and 138 were rescued near the eastern island of Kalymnos, in one of the worst accidents in Greek waters since the mass migrant flows started after the war in Syria.

Migrant boat capsizes off the coast of Greece... 02:10

Four coast guard patrol vessels, a helicopter and three fishing boats helped rescue the survivors, and nobody was listed as missing, the ministry said. The accident occurred shortly before midnight Thursday, when the wooden boat in which the migrants had left from Turkey took on water and sank in moderately strong winds.

At least three more people died when another migrant boat sunk off the nearby island of Rhodes.

Meanwhile, authorities on Friday raised to 29 the number of deaths from another migrant ship disaster off the island of Lesbos on Wednesday. They said 274 people have been rescued in total, while one more migrant remains listed as missing.

Lesbos has borne the brunt of the refugee crisis in Greece, with more than 300,000 people reaching the island this year on small boats from Turkey, police say. More than a third of that number has come in October alone.

Greece is the main point of entry for people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, seeking a better life in Europe. Well over half a million - mainly Syrians and Afghans - have arrived so far this year from the nearby Turkish coast, rushing to avoid deteriorating weather conditions as winter approaches, as European governments weigh taking tougher measures to try to limit the number of arrivals in Europe.

A migration group said Friday that at least 77 children have died while trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe since the lifeless body of a 3-year-old Syrian boy on a Turkish beach made worldwide headlines two months ago.

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