BY NICHOLAS PAPHITIS | AP ARABNEWS.COM
Published — Friday 28 November 2014
IERAPETRA, Greece: More than 700 people, most fleeing Syria, were disembarking Thursday on the Greek island of Crete after a harrowing journey on a smuggling ship that which broke down in gale-force winds while trying to reach Europe.
The Baris cargo ship lost engine power Tuesday in international waters off Crete, and reached the coastal town of Ierapetra after being slowly towed for 40 hours by a Greek navy frigate.
Authorities said its passengers include many Syrians — with a large number of women and children — seeking safety and a better life in Europe, and are exhausted but overall in good health.
As dozens of Ierapetra residents looked on from behind a police cordon, the coast guard started the disembarkation with women and small children who received preliminary care and food before being taken to temporary shelter at a basketball arena.
It is one of the largest single crossings of its kind in recent years. Tens of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in African and the Middle East risk the journey to Europe every year, paying smuggling gangs to transport them in usually unseaworthy craft ranging from dinghies to aging rust-buckets. Most end up in Italy.
According to the latest figures from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, at least 3,000 people have drowned or disappeared trying to make the trip this year — almost 2 percent of the estimated total of 165,000 to attempt the journey.