Four Turkish nationals were arrested on suspicion of smuggling migrants after a boat with nearly 100 people on board was found in trouble off an island near Athens, The Associated Press reported, citing a statement by the Greek coast guard.
The four had been among 97 people on board the boat found Thursday northeast of the island of Kea, which lies off the southeastern coast of the Greek capital. The boat had set sail from Izmir in Turkey and was bound for Italy, with the migrants paying smugglers in Turkey 8,000 euros each for the trip, The AP said.
Greece is a major entry point to the EU for Asians and Africans fleeing conflict or poverty, who mostly leave Turkey in unseaworthy boats. Stronger patrols by Greek authorities, assisted by the EU border agency, have restricted flows in recent years after nearly a million people made the journey in 2015.
However, Turkish officials and human rights groups have accused Greece of engaging in illegal returns of people who have succeeded in entering its waters or territory. Athens denies the accusations.
Both Greece and Turkey have substantial populations of refugees and migrants.
On March 18, 2016 the European Council and Turkey reached an agreement aimed at stopping the flow of irregular migration via Turkey to Europe. According to the EU-Turkey deal, all new irregular migrants and asylum seekers arriving from Turkey in the Greek islands and whose applications for asylum had been declared inadmissible are returned to Turkey. The EU pledged €3 billion for 2016-2017 and another €3 billion for 2018-2019 to Turkey as its part of the deal.