BALIKESIR, Turkey 

The Turkish Coast Guard on Thursday found the body of a drowned asylum seeker in the Aegean Sea, apparently among four missing passengers from a boat which sank earlier this week, security sources said.

Authorities are working to identify the body, said the sources, who asked not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

The search for three other missing passengers is ongoing, it added.

In a rescue operation which lasted into Tuesday, Turkish forces rescued 36 asylum seekers in the Aegean off the coast of Ayvalik in the Balikesir province.

Three Turkish boats plus a helicopter, plane, and diving team took part in search and rescue efforts.

The rescued passengers said their boat was damaged by the Greek Coast Guard, who also took away the gasoline cans from the boat, and pushed it back to Turkish territorial waters, leading to its sinking.

Recent months have seen multiple reports of Greek forces illegally pushing back boats of asylum seekers, endangering the passengers in the process.

After the asylum seekers said the boat had carried 40 people, search and rescue work began to find the four missing.

Turkey has been a key transit point for asylum seekers aiming to cross to Europe to start new lives, especially those fleeing war and persecution.

Turkey earlier this year opened its gates for irregular migrants wanting to cross to Europe, accusing the EU of failing to keep its promises under a 2016 migrant deal.

Turkey currently hosts over 3.7 million Syrians, making it the world’s top refugee-hosting country.

* Writing by Jeyhun Aliyev from Ankara

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