At least 24 people drowned off Turkey’s Aegean Sea coast when an inflatable boat carrying refugees sank early Tuesday, Turkish official sources said.

The Turkish Coast Guard launched a search-and-rescue effort as the boat, packed with at least 36 refugees, capsized off the Altinova area of Balikesir’s Ayvalik district as it tried to reach Greek islands.

Ayvalik Governor Namik Kemal Nazli told Anadolu Agency earlier that 12 refugees were rescued, while 17 bodies had been recovered from the sea. However, Turkish coast guard sources told Anadolu Agency that the death toll was now at 24.

The death toll may increase further, Nazli said. He said the refugees were believed to be from Iraq, Syria and Algeria.

Five Turkish provinces – Canakkale, Balikesir, Izmir, Mugla and Aydin – lying on the Aegean Sea facing Greek islands are prime spots for refugees leaving Turkey for EU countries.

Over the past year, thousands have made short but perilous journeys across the Aegean in a bid to reach northern and western Europe in search for a better life.

At least 650 deaths were reported in the Aegean up to Dec. 19, 2015, according to data from the International Organization for Migration.

It is not different in the Mediterranean, where around 1,700 refugees and asylum seekers died trying to cross the sea in January-April 2015 alone, Amnesty International report says.

Worsening weather conditions in winter make those trips even more dangerous.

International Organization for Migration report shows around 800,000 refugees reached Europe via the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece, accounting for 80 percent of the refugees arriving irregularly in Europe by sea in 2015.

According to the UN’s Refugee Agency, more than 950,000 people in total have reached Europe by sea in the same year. 

Anadolu Agency