ROME (AP) – Greek authorities say they have broken a criminal ring that smuggled migrants that had entered Greece illegally to Italy by using small vessels departing from remote beaches.
A police statement Monday said three men have been arrested for alleged ring membership, while 9 more are being sought.
The suspects were caught Friday in the southern Peloponnese region, allegedly preparing to take a group of 46 migrants to Italy on a 12-meter (40-foot) long vessel.
Police said the ring charged migrants, who were seeking to continue their journey to more affluent European countries, to handle the entire Greek leg of their trip.
It allegedly picked them up at the northeastern land border with Turkey and drove them to the Peloponnese, from where they continued by sea.
Spain says a fishing vessel that rescued 12 migrants in waters north of Libya on Thursday is awaiting a decision from Italy, Malta and Libya over where the migrants can land.
The migrants are from Senegal, Mali and Libya and rescued by 13 crew members of the Spanish fishing vessel, Europa Press news agency reported. The boat is stranded in central Mediterranean waters north of Libya.
Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said Monday that Italy and Malta have rejected taking the trawler in because the rescue took place in Libyan territorial waters.
Oscar Camps, the founder of Spanish non-profit Open Arms, has criticized negotiations to send the migrants back to Libya, arguing that the country’s ports can’t be considered safe.
A doctor from the group boarded the Spanish fishing vessel on Saturday and confirmed all passengers were in good health.
Italian police say they have detained five Egyptians accused of smuggling a boatload of 264 migrants from Libya to Sicily.
The overloaded fishing boat pulled into the Ragusa port Saturday, its third day at sea, and the migrants disembarked and were registered.
Police said Monday that the migrants, most of them from Eritrea, identified the five Egyptian crew who charged them 1,500 euros apiece for the passage.
While most migrants are rescued at sea before reaching Italy, some do occasionally make it if their original boat is sturdy enough.
Overall, migrant crossings to Italy began decreasing in 2017, after Italy’s previous government negotiated deals with Libyan leaders and militias. The numbers have dropped further after the current government cracked down on humanitarian groups operating rescue missions in the Mediterranean.