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Two rescue operations were launched Wednesday for migrants crammed on board sailboats, one far off a western Greek island and the other off a Cycladic island near the Greek capital, the coast guard said.
A group of 76 people were rescued from a sailing boat in distress 74 miles southwest of the Ionian Sea island of Zakynthos in western Greece, the coast guard said. All were taken on board a passing Egyptian-flagged cargo ship, and there were no reports of any missing people.
It was not immediately clear where the sailboat had set out from, but the area lies on the route often used by smuggling vessels carrying migrants from Turkey or northern Africa to Italy.
MIGRANT FISHING VESSEL CAPSIZES OFF COAST OF GREECE KILLING AT LEAST 78, DOZENS STILL MISSING
In the second incident, a rescue operation was launched for about 60 people on a sailboat near the northwestern coast of Kythnos island, one of the Cyclades to the southeast of Athens.
Two private boats and one coast guard patrol vehicle on land were in the area, while another three coast guard patrol boats were heading to the location, authorities said.
Also Wednesday, the Greek coast guard picked up 17 migrants from a boat off the island of Samos, near Turkey in the eastern Aegean Sea. On Tuesday, another 90 people were rescued in four separate incidents from small boats off Samos and the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos.
Migrants disembark from a Greek coast vessel after a rescue operation in Greece on Aug. 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Panagiotis Balaskas)
Greece has seen an increase in the arrival of smuggling boats bringing migrants into the country over the last two months, mainly small dinghies heading to eastern Aegean Sea islands from the nearby Turkish coast.
For decades, the country has been a preferred entry point into the European Union for people fleeing conflict or poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia and hoping for a better life in Europe.
More than 17,300 people have reached Greece by land and sea so far this year, according to the latest United Nations figures. About 13,500 of them arrived by sea with 5,500 reaching Lesbos alone.
4 DEAD, 18 RESCUED OFF GREEK ISLAND AFTER MIGRANT BOAT SINKS
Arrivals make up more than a tenth of this year’s total successful Mediterranean crossings, most of which — about 113,000 — were to Italy. Arrivals in Greece for the whole of 2022 totaled 19,000.
In June, a battered fishing trawler heading from Libya to Italy with an estimated 500-750 people on board sank in international waters off southwestern Greece. Only 104 survivors were found, and Greek authorities were heavily criticized for failing to evacuate the vessel in time.
The government has attributed the rise in migrant crossings since then to better summer weather, unrest in Africa and smugglers taking advantage of an increase in Aegean small boat traffic during the tourist season.
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After nearly a million people entered Greece at the height of Europe’s 2015 migration crisis, the vast majority hoping to move north to wealthier European countries, Greece increased patrols along the sea and land border with Turkey to halt arrivals.
Human rights groups and migrants denounced the government for carrying out summary deportations of people arriving in the country without allowing them to apply for asylum, an accusation the government strongly denied.