GR US

As Refugee, Migrant Numbers Soar, Dozens Rescued off Samos

The National Herald

(The 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters via AP)

Greek authorities said dozens of migrants who sent out a distress call while off the coast of the eastern Aegean island of Samos have been rescued and their boat was being towed to land on April 2, as the numbers keep growing with the advent of warmer weather.

The Coast Guard said that the boat, carrying 58 people, was located north of Samos in rough seas and was being towed to the island by a vessel from the European border agency Frontex.

A European Union-Turkey deal two years ago to halt the arrival of migrants into Europe has significantly reduced the number of people arriving on Greek islands from Turkey. But hundreds of people continue to make the crossing each week.

Greek authorities said more than 350 people had arrived on three Greek islands between the mornings of March 30 and April 2 and that nearly 2,000 reached Greek islands in March, dispatched by human traffickers that Turkey lets operate even during the suspended deal.

Greece is housing some 15,000 on the islands and nearly another 50,000 more in mainland detention centers and camps after the European Union reneged on promises to take the overload and closed its borders to them.

Of the 1,968 migrants who crossed in smuggling boats from neighboring Turkey in March, 1,369 landed on Lesvos, 541 on Samos and 58 on Chios, Kathimerini said in a report, far higher than the 1,054 who arrived in January and 997 in February.

In March 2016, at the peak of the crisis, 8,604 people reached the islands (3,277 to Lesbos, 3,614 to Chios and 1,713 to Samos) where they are being held on conditions criticized as unfit by human rights groups.