ATHENS (Reuters) - A group of 113 mostly Afghan migrants has landed on Greece’s biggest island Crete, officials said on Wednesday, the first big arrival on the island since the migrant crisis began.
Crete, Greece’s southernmost island, lies north of Libya and Egypt. The migrants said they had set off from Antalya on Turkey’s southwestern coast, some 260 nautical miles away, police and coastguard officials said.
Warm weather and calmer seas in the Mediterranean have led to a surge in recent weeks in the number of people trying to cross to Italy from Libya, where people-smugglers operate with relative impunity.
However, with the much longer journey, there is more chance of boats being blown off course to islands such as Crete, a Greek coastguard official on the island said.
“We fear that when boats start filling up and they sail north or south of the island, accidents may cause them to wash ashore on Crete whereas their aim is to reach Italy,” Commander Spyros Aggelakis told Reuters.
The 113 were discovered on a beach northeast of the island on Tuesday after their boat ran aground near the coast, police said. Two suspected smugglers from Croatia and Montenegro traveling with the group were also arrested.
A separate group of 64 migrants and refugees, among them 17 children, landed on Crete last Friday.
More than a million migrants and refugees from Syria and beyond arrived in Greece from Turkey in the past year, most taking the shorter journey on dinghies to Lesbos just few miles away.
That became less attractive after a European Union deal with Turkey to halt the flow which sees all undocumented migrants and refugees arriving in Greece sent back to Turkey if their asylum applications are rejected.
Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Alison Williams