Greece’s coast guard heads to overcrowded migrant sailboat anchored off remote uninhabited island

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s coast guard was mounting a rescue operation Tuesday for dozens of people crammed onto a sailing boat anchored off the coast of an uninhabited island far from the country’s mainland, authorities said.

A private vessel had spotted the sailing boat off the small island of Falconera, officials said. The island is located between Milos and the Peloponnese in an area known for strong currents and rough seas. About 50 people were believed to be on board. A coast guard helicopter was already on the scene, while four coast guard vessels were heading to the island.

Separately Tuesday, 19 people were picked up from a dinghy that had lost steering northeast of the eastern Aegean island of Samos.

In June, a battered trawler smuggling up to 750 people from Libya to Italy sank southwest of Greece in one of the worst Mediterranean migrant disasters in years. Only 104 people survived, while Greek authorities were criticized for failing to intervene in time.

Greece has reported an increase in the number of people arriving in the country by sea in recent weeks. For decades, the country has been on one of the preferred migration routes into the European Union for people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Its eastern islands close to Turkey have long been a major entry point, but stricter deterrence policies in recent years had reduced arrivals.

But Greece has come under heavy criticism over what rights organizations have said is a systematic practice of illegally and clandestinely carrying out summary deportations of recent arrivals back to Turkey without allowing them to apply for asylum. The government strenuously denies it carries out such deportations.

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