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Greece: 7 Egyptians arrested, suspected of crewing migrant boat

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ATHENS, Greece – Greek authorities say they have arrested seven Egyptians suspected of manning a fishing boat full of nearly 500 migrants who lost control in high winds off the coast of Crete and launched a major rescue effort earlier this week .

The seven were arrested on suspicion of involvement in migrant smuggling after a preliminary investigation revealed they may have been members of the ship’s crew, the Coast Guard said on Friday.

The rusting 25-metre (82-foot) ship was en route from Libya to Italy with 483 people on board when it lost control south of Crete early Tuesday. Those on board called the authorities, who started a rescue operation. The fishing boat was eventually towed to Crete.

It was one of the largest numbers of migrants to arrive in the country together in recent years.

According to the preliminary investigation, which also involved the European police agency Europol, the passengers had paid a smuggling gang $3,000-$4,000 each to be transported to Italy, the Coast Guard said. On board were 336 men, 10 women, 128 boys and nine girls from Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Sudan and the Palestinian territories.

Every year, tens of thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa try to enter the European Union via dangerous sea voyages. The vast majority go from the nearby Turkish coast to the eastern Greek islands in small inflatable dinghies, or try to cross directly to Italy from North Africa and Turkey in larger ships.

The Greek Minister of Migration, Notis Mitarachi, sent a letter to the European Commission on Tuesday requesting that the passengers be relocated to other EU countries. He argued that Greece and other border countries of the 27-member bloc, where many migrants arrive for the first time in their attempt to reach wealthier European countries, “cannot be expected to carry an ever-increasing burden that cannot be proportionate to their respective capacities”.

Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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