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Greece continues search for immigrants

coast guard
A Greek coast guard officer, right, prepares to take a group the illegal immigrants to a shelter  

ATHENS, Greece -- Police are searching a Greek island for suspected illegal immigrants after more than 200 were found trying to enter from Turkey.

The asylum-seekers, mainly Iraqis, came ashore at Mandoudi on Evia after leaving the Turkish coastal town of Bodrum in a small cargo ship.

About 236 Iraqi illegal immigrants, including 13 children, have been detained, but police were continuing to search across the island and on roads linking Evia to the rest of Greece.

It is not clear how many people had been aboard the cargo ship Imdat, with news agencies giving differing figures.

The Associated Press downgraded its figure from 300 to 215, but Reuters says 350 were onboard.

An official from the merchant marine ministry told Reuters: "The search for the other people both in the sea and on the island is still ongoing and we estimate there were around 350 people in total on the boat."

Initial Greek media reports said five immigrants had drowned, but those reports have not been confirmed.

Three Turks have been arrested including the captain and crew members of the ship on which the asylum-seekers journeyed on Wednesday, AP reported.

The incident has intensified tension between Greece and Turkey over people being smuggled illegally across the Aegean Sea.

Greece has blamed Turkey for allegedly allowing the ship to leave its shores, and has called on its neighbour to crack down on people-smuggling and to increase patrols.

Merchant marine minister Christos Papoutsis said: "It is not possible for Turkey to seek to join the family of European nations and not take the measures needed to prevent this terrible phenomenon," AP said.

Government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said Greece and Turkey should discuss "this big problem of illegal immigration."

He added: "The wave of immigrants is moving to Greece from Turkey and not the other way around."

Greek officials have often criticised Turkey for not doing enough to prevent illegal immigrants from being ferried to Greek islands or across the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean. They say most of the boats used by immigrants are Turkish.

Tens of thousands of people from Asia, eastern Europe and the Middle East cross illegally into European Union-member Greece every year, typically heading to Greek islands close to Turkey's coast.

Nearly 100 Afghan would-be immigrants have been detained on the island of Kos in the past week alone after crossing from Turkey.

• Greek Merchant Maritime Ministry

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