NEWS

Tide of migrants keeps swelling

The Greek Coast Guard is taking extra measures to fight the increasing tide of illegal immigrants after a boatload of 197 men, women and children, picked up yesterday by a fishing boat, swelled this year’s figures to 3,493 immigrants apprehended. This compares with 3,664 over the whole of last year. In addition, 87 human traffickers have been arrested so far in 2001, against 124 for the whole of last year. Traffickers often abandon ship by jumping onto power boats, leaving their human cargo to find their own way to their destinations. Yesterday’s arrivals of 191 men, four women and two children of various nationalities were picked up, after being abandoned by their crew, near the island of Icaria by the passenger ferry Poseidon Express at dawn. Their 27-meter fishing boat had been spotted by a coast guard Super Puma helicopter and coast guard vessels. They were taken to Vathi, on the island of Samos, where they arrived late yesterday morning and housed in a reception center. Coast guard officials told Kathimerini that would-be immigrants gather in or around Turkey’s Aegean ports such as Bodrum or Cesme looking for human trafficking gangs, which often include Greeks, to take them to Greece for prices ranging from $2,000 to $4,000 per head according to the difficulties involved, the weather and the number of immigrants. According to sources, the traffickers now use yachts and usually head for isolated, mainland beaches. Coast guard officials say it is impossible to stop every one of the thousands of yachts sailing the Greek seas without specific information. Coast guard sources said the problem was a political issue between Greece and Turkey and not simply a question of the coast guard or the navy guarding borders. In Greece, most opposition parties declared themselves in support of the effort against terrorism but warned against widespread military action that would lead to the deaths of innocent civilians.