Greece: 30 migrants picked up from islet off Crete

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek authorities say they have picked up a group of 30 people from a wooden boat that had lost steering and was drifting close to the rocky coast of a small islet north of Crete, in the latest case of boats carrying migrants running into trouble in southern Greece.

The coast guard said Tuesday they had received a distress call on Monday from the boat while it was sailing between Crete and the small island of Antikythera. The wooden motorboat was eventually located near the uninhabited islet of Gramvousa, just off the northwestern tip of Crete.

The 30 people on board, who included nine minors and four women, were transported to Crete, the coast guard said. There was no immediate information on their nationalities.

It was the latest of several migrant boats that have run into trouble and ended up on southern Greek islands in recent days. Over the weekend, the coast guard announced it had picked up 69 people on Friday from a sailboat that was drifting and had sent out a distress signal 26 nautical miles (30 miles, 48 kilometers) southwest of the Ionian island of Zakythnos.

The boat had set sail from the Turkish coast near Izmir on Aug. 22 and had been heading to Italy when it ran into trouble, the coast guard said.

The 69 — 61 people from Iran, two from Afghanistan and six from Turkey — were rescued by a passing cargo ship and taken to the southern mainland coast of Kalamata on Saturday, the coast guard said. The six Turks were arrested on suspicion of migrant smuggling.

Earlier this month, about 240 people arrived on the southern island of Kythera on three sailboats that had also set sail from Turkey and had been aiming directly for Italy.

For years, the preferred route for people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa was the much shorter sea route from Turkey to nearby Greek islands in the eastern Aegean.

But with Greek authorities increasing patrols in the area and facing persistent reports of pushbacks — summary and illegal deportations of new arrivals back to Turkey without allowing them to apply for asylum — more people are attempting to circumvent Greece and head directly to Italy.

Greece denies it carries out pushbacks, but insists it robustly protects its borders.

“No new tactic by smugglers and no new maneuver by Turkey will change our stance,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said during a speech at the start of a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, where he also touched on migration.

“We save the innocent, we protect our borders, and the other side should look at its own unguarded borders,” he said.

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Follow AP’s coverage of migration issues at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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