ATHENS — Greece’s coast guard said Tuesday two people have been arrested on suspicion of migrant smuggling and endangering lives for steering a sailboat with a further 68 people on board that ran into trouble off the western coast of Greece last week.
The coast guard said the two — an Iraqi and a Syrian — appeared before a prosecutor in southern Greece and were remanded in custody pending trial.
The sailboat had set out from Turkey and was heading to Italy when it ran into trouble off western Greece last Thursday, the coast guard said. Those on board were from Iran, Syria and Iraq, and were 52 men, nine women and nine children.
A search and rescue operation was launched and the sailboat was escorted safely to the southwestern Greek port of Pylos on Friday afternoon. Contrary to usual practice where the coast guard announces search and rescue operations while they are ongoing, it did not confirm this incident until Tuesday, despite Greek media reporting on the case at the time.
Greece lies along one of the most popular migration routes into Europe for people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, with most making their way from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands, or attempting to cross a river separating the two countries along their land border.
But Greece has taken an increasingly hard line, bolstering land and sea patrols and turning back would-be asylum-seekers. Rights organizations and migrants have repeatedly accused Greek authorities of carrying out illegal summary deportations, known as pushbacks, at sea and on land. The government denies these take place, despite strong indications to the contrary.
Amid the crackdown, some smuggling rings have attempted to bypass Greece, using bigger boats to sail around the country directly to Italy.