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Greece: 7 Egyptians detained, suspected of being on board a migrant boat


ATHENS, Greece – Greek authorities have announced that they have arrested seven Egyptians suspected of being part of the crew of a fishing boat packed with nearly 500 migrants which lost its way in high winds off Crete and sparked a major rescue effort earlier this week.

The seven men were arrested on suspicion of being involved in migrant smuggling, after a preliminary investigation identified them as part of the ship’s crew, the Coast Guard said on Friday.

The rusting 25-metre (82ft) vessel was heading from Libya to Italy with 483 people on board when it lost direction south of Crete early on Tuesday. Those on board made an emergency call to the authorities, who launched a rescue operation. The fishing boat was finally towed to Crete.

This is one of the largest numbers of migrants arriving together in the country in recent years.

According to the preliminary investigation, in which European police agency Europol was also involved, the passengers had each paid between $3,000 and $4,000 to a network of smugglers to be transported to Italy, the coast guard said. On board were 336 men, 10 women, 128 boys and nine girls from Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Sudan and the Palestinian territories.

Tens of thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa try to enter the European Union every year by perilous sea journeys. The vast majority head for the eastern Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast in small dinghies, or attempt to cross directly to Italy from North Africa and Turkey in larger ships.

Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi sent a letter to the European Commission on Tuesday asking that the passengers be transferred to other EU countries. He argued that Greece and others from the border countries of the 27-member bloc where many migrants arrive for the first time in their effort to reach wealthier European countries “cannot expect to shoulder a burden constantly growing out of proportion to their respective abilities”.

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