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500 migrants aboard a boat, rescue operation underway

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A rescue operation was underway on Tuesday, November 22 off the Greek island of Crete after a boat with up to 500 migrants on board sent a distress signal, the Greek coast guard announced.

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“We can see the boat. She is drifting. there are a large number of people on board”said a spokesman for the coast guard to AFP, specifying that their number was between 400 and 500, according to the distress call received by the authorities.

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Difficult rescue

The operation was made difficult due to the strong winds blowing in this area located southwest of Crete, the largest island in Greece. The Coast Guard said it received the distress call overnight Monday through Tuesday after midnight.

Two cargo ships, an oil tanker and two Italian fishing boats were nearby to lend assistance, they added.

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Due to increased patrols by the Greek Coast Guard and the European border surveillance agency Frontex in the Aegean Sea, migrant smugglers now take a longer and more perilous route south of Crete to enter the Union European.

But the human tragedies are increasing due to the risks taken by migrants who board makeshift boats on stormy or even raging seas in autumn and winter.

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299 people dead since January

On October 11, at least thirty people died in two shipwrecks off the islands of Lesbos and Kythera. In early November more people also perished in two simultaneous shipwrecks.

According to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 299 people have died or gone missing in the Eastern Mediterranean since the beginning of 2022 so far compared to 111 in total last year. Greece, Italy and Spain are among the main countries of arrival for migrants from Africa and the Middle East wishing to reach the European Union.

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In the first nine months of this year, Greece saw an 80% increase in the number of migrant arrivals from neighboring Turkey compared to the same period in 2021, according to official data.

The Greek Coast Guard reported the rescue of around 1,500 people compared to less than 600 last year, according to official data. Since the beginning of the year, 1,891 people trying to reach Europe have disappeared in the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

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