Hundreds of illegal migrants land on Evia

Scores of illegal migrants stormed the shore of the island of Evia early yesterday, after being dropped off by their traffickers at Mandoudi on the northern coast of the island, officials said yesterday. Although authorities have not released a final figure, the Merchant Marine Ministry reported that about 300 illegal migrants – most of them thought to be Iraqi Kurds and Afghans – had initially boarded the smuggling ship. The ministry had also reported that five migrants had drowned while trying to reach the shore, only to retract this claim later. Officials believe that the ship originally departed from Turkey. We are deeply saddened here at the office over the incident, said Ketty Kehayioglou, information officer for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Athens. We immediately dispatched a team to the scene, and we are in constant communication with the authorities. Kehayioglou stressed that the primary concern of UNHCR is to provide adequate medical treatment, offer a decent reception, and provide a proper asylum request process for the migrants. The UNHCR official also noted that her office had received reports that some of the migrants were Afghans. According to the Merchant Marine Ministry, 185 illegal migrants who made it so far to the shore of Mandoudi, located about 100 kilometers (62 miles) northeast of Athens, have been detained at a closed sports facility nearby. The group comprises 160 men, 13 women, and 12 children, while one of the group’s members who demonstrated signs of severe fatigue was taken to a hospital in Halkida. Meanwhile, a team of state officials headed by the director of the Manpower and Employment Organization (OAED) arrived in Mandoudi yesterday to aid local authorities in their efforts to provide basic care for the migrants. With many more migrants still believed missing, authorities launched an wide-ranging search operation that included coast guard patrol boats, police units, and navy and coast guard helicopters, combing the area in search of more migrants and their traffickers. Later yesterday they arrested three Turks, whom they accused of being traffickers. Earlier, authorities had located the 30-meter-long cargo ship used in the smuggling operation, which had been left abandoned near the site where the migrants were found. However, they have not been able to verify its identity, as it bears no flag or markings. According to accounts offered to authorities by the detained migrants, their traffickers abandoned the ship in the open sea by boarding a speedboat. Greece in recent years has become a hub for both migrants and refugees seeking a second chance in Europe. Scores of people cross the border by land and sea illegally, either inside ships or by walking through minefields. According to the Public Order Ministry, 6,653 people were granted refugee status last year, while between January and March of 2001, the ministry received 468 new requests. For this reason the UN refugee agency has raised its profile in Greece, with its Greek branch having recently received over $1.6 million for its annual program, surpassing other major asylum countries such as England and Spain.

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