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Rescues underway for migrants on board sailboats off the coast of western Greece and in Cyclades – WTOP News

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Two rescue operations were underway Wednesday for migrants crammed on board sailboats, one far off the…

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Two rescue operations were underway Wednesday for migrants crammed on board sailboats, one far off the coast of a western Greek island and the other off the coast of a Cycladic island near the Greek capital, the coast guard said.

A group of 76 people were rescued from a sailing boat in distress 64 nautical miles (74 miles, 118 kilometers) 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 northern Africa to Italy.

In the second incident, a rescue operation was launched for a “sizeable number” of people on board a sailboat near the northwestern coast of Kythnos island, one of the Cyclades to the southeast of the Greek capital.

It was not immediately clear how many people were on board, the coast guard said. 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.

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 near the 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 15,600 people have reached Greece by land and sea so far this year, according to the latest United Nations figures. Nearly 12,000 of them arrived by sea with 5,000 reaching Lesbos alone.

Arrivals make up about 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.

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.

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