Heraklion, Crete - Greek police said they arrested at least 13 human smugglers believed part of an international ring and had discovered 131 migrants hiding in caves and warehouses on the island of Crete.
Greece is overrun with some 64,000 refugees and migrants stuck because of the suspension of a European Union swap deal with Turkey because of an overwhelming number of asylum applications. Most are from war-torn Syria and the Middle East but growing numbers are coming from Africa, via Libya, with Italy and Crete prime destinations.
An operation to dismantle the ring was under way, and Britain's National Crime Agency was also involved, police said, the Reuters news agency reported.
The head of the local coastguard, Dimitris Saitakis, told reporters, "This is a strong blow to organised crime on Crete," adding that he expected the number of arrests to rise "dramatically".
Greek media said those arrested were migrants from Egypt and Pakistan and Syrian refugees. Some 112 of the migrants were in caves and others found in warehouses, it was reported.
The British newspaper the Sunday Express said it was thought the gang charged between 2000-4000 euros ($2124-$4248) per person to take them from Athens to Crete and then on to Italy via the sea. Chris Hogben, from the NCA, who is Deputy Head of the UK’s Organised Immigration Crime taskforce Project Invigor, said: “The migrants, including many women and children, were kept in very poor conditions in caves and squalid farm buildings.”