Another migrant boat landing on Lesbos | Photo: Reuters / A. Konstantinidis
Another migrant boat landing on Lesbos | Photo: Reuters / A. Konstantinidis

36 migrants from Iran and Afghanistan, traveling from Turkey, were rescued off the coast of Lesbos on Sunday. The migrants were taken to Petra port on the island where they were tested for the novel coronavirus, and then taken into quarantine.

The small boat carrying 36 migrants was spotted off the coast of Lesbos on Sunday, June 14, according to the French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP). The Greek press agency ANA-MPA said that the boat was carrying 16 men, 10 women, two of whom are pregnant, and 10 minors.

The boat, continued ANA-MPA, had "become stranded" between the Turkish coast and the north-west coast of the island of Lesbos.

Quarantine

After being taken in by the Greek coastguard, the migrants were first taken to Lesbos’s Petra port where they were tested for the novel coronavirus by a medical team. The group were then moved to Megala Therma, a temporary camp on the north of the island for a "seven-day" quarantine, according to AFP.

According to ANA-MPA, this is the "third such boat" arriving on Lesbos since the beginning of June. So far, reported the agency, a total of 108 migrants have arrived on the island this month, in stark contrast to the greatly reduced numbers since mid-March, when Greece like most other countries around the world shut down due to restrictions to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pro-migrant organizations like Aegean Boat Report regularly post on social media when boats arrive on the Greek islands. Their latest post refers to an arrival of "40 migrants" on Sunday, June 9.

'In distress for 14 hours'

AFP reported that the migrant boat this weekend was in fact spotted on Saturday morning, but the rescue operation by the Greek coastguard "did not take place until midnight." Distress hotline Alarm Phone, which monitors migrant boats across the Mediterranean, repeatedly tweeted about the situation of those on board.

Throughout Saturday, they sent out a series of urgent tweets, some with videos and pictures calling on the Greek and Turkish coastguards to help the people on board, since it appeared one of the pregnant women had gone into labor.

It was reported that the woman, and her baby, were in the end fine. One person "had to be hospitalized," a Greek coastguard spokesperson told AFP but didn’t provide further details.

'Hurry, we are so scared'

Those on board the boat told Alarm Phone to tell the authorities to "hurry" because they were "so scared." In a subsequent tweet, Alarm Phone said "we could hear the people in the boat scream." They said that someone on the boat had told them "the [pregnant] woman is dying." Alarm Phone asked "Europe: What are you doing?"

Later still on Saturday, they published a photo of the woman who they said was giving birth, under a blanket or tarpaulin, her face pixeled out. "The woman is giving birth in the dark on a dinghy in distress," Alarm Phone wrote. "All competent authorities have knowledge of the situation. The Greek and Turkish Coast Guards, Frontex and NATO bear the full responsibility of these lives and any fatalities."

In total, migrant help organizations said the boat had been left in distress "for a total of 14 hours" as those "competent authorities" attempted to "palm off responsibility on each other," reported AFP.

'Brutal pushbacks'

On May 29, Aegean Boat Report, which also monitors migrant boats in the Mediterranean and advocates for migrant rights in the region, accused the Greek coastguard of "brutally pushing back" another boat carrying "around 40" people. They said the Greek coastguards "destroyed their engine, [and] sprayed them with an unknown white powder." This was just one instance of several, said migrant organizations.

On Friday, June 12, reports AFP, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the EU called on the Greek government to "urgently investigate" reports of pushbacks and "take the necessary measures."

Throughout the lockdown, Greece has continued to transfer some migrants and asylum seekers off the Aegean islands to the mainland, in an attempt to ease overcrowding. AFP reports however that because of a shortage of accommodation on the mainland too, many migrants and asylum seekers have taken to sleeping in Victoria Square in the center of Athens. A phenomenon that was last seen in 2015 when more than a million migrants arrived in Greece in the hope of making it on to other countries in the EU.

 

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