IERAPETRA, Greece — Nearly 600 migrants, mostly refugees from Syria, have been temporarily put up in a basketball arena in the southern Cretan town of Ierapetra, where they arrived in a crippled smuggling ship after more than a week at sea.
Red Cross volunteers issued warm meals and clothing to the 80 children, 150 women and 361 men who were on the 77-meter (250-foot) Baris freighter, which was towed to Ierapetra Nov. 27, two days after losing engine power off Crete.
About two-thirds of the migrants are Syrians, who qualify for refugee status, while the others include Kurds, Afghans and Palestinians, officials said.
“These are lower to middle class people who were seeking a better life, due to the war in their country,” said Argyris Pantazis, Ierapetra’s Deputy Mayor for Civil Protection.
He said the Syrian refugees will probably leave the arena within the next two days. The other migrants, who do not immediately qualify for refugee status, will be given the option to return to their country voluntarily or be interned in camps pending deportation.
“Nobody should be in the position these people are in, but as that’s the way it is we are doing everything in our power to help them,” said Nikolaos Polychronakis, a Red Cross volunteer organizer from the nearby town of Aghios Nikolaos.
“They are settling in quite well. There are many families but we have milk, baby formula and nappies for the small children,” he said.
The migrants left Turkey last week, and had paid smugglers between $2,000 and $6,000 to be taken to Italy.
It was one of the largest single crossings of its kind in recent years. Tens of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East risk the journey to Europe every year in usually unseaworthy craft ranging from dinghies to aging rust-buckets. Most end up in Italy, although Greece is also a major entry point.
Greek authorities have arrested seven crew members of the Baris and two suspected smugglers.