ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Dozens of migrants were rescued from a small boat in difficulty off an eastern Aegean Sea island and a search was underway for one more person, Greek authorities said Thursday, as arrivals to the southeastern European country increase.
The coast guard said 43 people were picked up from the small vessel southeast of Lesbos, and three patrol boats were seeking a woman reported by survivors as potentially missing.
Greece was once the main entry point to the European Union for people fleeing strife and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, but it has now been overtaken by Italy and Spain.
Nevertheless, according to United Nations data, about 19,700 people have arrived in Greece since January. That surpasses the total of almost 19,000 for all of 2022. About half arrived in July and August. Most cross to the eastern Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast.
The coast guard said Thursday that, in addition to the people picked up off Lesbos, 50 migrants were rescued from small boats in the eastern Aegean over the previous 24 hours in three separate incidents.
Authorities also arrested one man Thursday off the eastern island of Kos, on suspicion of having smuggled a group of migrants over from Turkey in a speedboat. A coast guard statement said the suspect rammed a patrol boat as he tried to escape to Turkish waters and was detained after his boat sank.
Large numbers of people are arrested every year on charges of smuggling migrants in boats from Turkey. But human rights organizations have accused Greek authorities of unfairly viewing migrants steering the small vessels as members of organized smuggling rings.
On Tuesday, the Legal Center Lesbos group, which provides free legal assistance to migrants, said a court on the island awarded compensation to an Afghan man wrongly jailed for migrant smuggling.
The organization said the migrant it had represented was acquitted on appeal in 2022 after spending nearly three years in prison. It said Monday’s court ruling awarded him nearly 16,000 euros ($17,000) for the time he was imprisoned.
“It should not be forgotten that this case is only one of thousands, as people charged or convicted of smuggling make up the second largest prison population in Greece,” LCL said in a statement. “Most will never be compensated for this time in prison, even if eventually acquitted.”
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