Wed | Sep 18, 2019

Hundreds more migrants from island arrive in northern Greece

Published:Wednesday | September 4, 2019 | 12:26 AM

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP):

A ship carrying more than 780 asylum-seekers who had been in a camp on the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos arrived in Greece’s northern mainland port of Thessaloniki Tuesday morning, as part of government efforts to ease severe overcrowding and tackle a recent increase in new arrivals on the islands.

The ship docked in Thessaloniki a day after the arrival of another ship with more than 630 people, mostly Afghan families, who had also been staying in Lesbos’ Moria camp.Slightly more than half of the new arrivals are being taken to a temporary camp in Nea Kavala, in northern Greece, from where authorities said they will be moved next month to a camp currently under construction. The rest will head to other facilities in northern Greece.

Hundreds of people continue to head to Greece from Turkey each week, despite a 2016 European Union-Turkey deal that provides for new arrivals on the eastern Aegean islands to be deported to Turkey unless they are successful in their asylum application. The deal has left thousands of people stranded in dramatically overcrowded facilities on the islands, where camps are several times over capacity.

On Tuesday, the coast guard said a search and rescue operation was launched after authorities received a distress call from a boat carrying migrants off the eastern Aegean island of Samos.

The vessel was spotted by a helicopter from the European Frontex border patrol agency, and the 51 passengers were safely picked up by a coast guard vessel and taken to Samos.

Separately, the coast guard said Tuesday that a patrol vessel had intercepted a sailboat with 58 migrants crammed aboard off the coast of the western Greek island of Kefalonia the previous day as it attempted to leave the country. Two people, aged 28 and 25, were arrested on suspicion of migrant smuggling.