With many refugees and migrants frustrated at long delays in processing asylum applications in Greece and others wanting to reach more prosperous countries, Greek police apprehended six traffickers trying to take some to Italy via sailboats.
Greece is holding more than 100,000, including more than 34,000 on five islands near Turkey which has continued to let smugglers keep sending them during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union.
It can take two years or more for sanctuary applications to be processed and people are being kept in overcrowded detention centers and camps where there has been frequent violence between ethnic groups and with riot police trying to quell trouble.
Police said five others were being sought to put a dent into the scheme, with one suspect arrested off the coast of Corfu in the Ionian Sea, the island closest to Italy, caught with 23 migrants aboard. The others were arrested in Athens.
Police say members of the trafficking ring had bought at least four sailboats, 10 to 15 meters (32 to 49 feet) in length, each capable of carrying a minimum of 15 migrants. The boats were registered in the names of Bulgarian citizens who weren't the owners.
The ring, active at least since June 2019, moved the sailboats around in Greek marinas to avoid detection, police said. At least three trips to Italy were established but there may have been more, police said
The trafficking ring members transported the migrants to Corfu in groups of three or four by car or bus to avoid raising suspicions and paid for their lodging at hotels. Each had to pay 5,500 euros ($6,280) for the trip, police said.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)