A 6-year-old girl drowned when a small boat crammed with immigrants trying to enter Greece illegally sank off an eastern Aegean Sea islet.

Greece's Merchant Marine Ministry says 21 people, mainly Syrians, were rescued after the vessel foundered for unknown reasons Wednesday off Farmakonissi. The nationality of the drowned child was not available.

Uninhabited Farmakonissi, just off the Turkish coast, is regularly used by human trafficking rings to drop off people who pay them handsomely to be clandestinely taken into Greece.

Economically struggling Greece is the main gateway for tens of thousands of Asians and Africans who illegally enter Europe every year seeking a better life.

Fatal sea accidents are frequent, with smuggling rings piling migrants into overcrowded, unseaworthy craft to make the short but often rough crossing from Turkey.