Hundreds of migrants rescued off eastern Greek islands

AP News
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Posted: Nov 07, 2015 3:22 PM
Hundreds of migrants rescued off eastern Greek islands

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Authorities rescued several hundred migrants from the Aegean Sea off eastern Greek islands in relatively calm waters on Saturday, also reporting the death of a toddler.

The boy, aged 2-3 years, was found off the coast of Lesbos fully clothed, including boots, and wearing an orange life jacket, the Greek coast guard said in a statement.

A coast guard spokeswoman, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press, that there were no reports of a missing child from today's migrant arrivals or rescues.

"Until we identify the boy, we cannot exclude anything," she said, leaving open the possibility that the child may have drowned before Saturday.

Earlier, Greek authorities had reported that Saturday was the first time in 11 days that no migrant had been reported dead in the Aegean, largely because of favorable weather.

Even with favorable seas, Greece's coast guard and European Union border agency Frontex rescued a total of 429 migrants in seven separate rescue operations, authorities said. One of the boats was "in a difficult situation" while two others were "rudderless."

As people flee conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, European countries are struggling to cope with the heavy flow and hostility from anti-migrant groups. Many EU members have been reluctant to take in significant numbers of migrants.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel underlined in her weekly video message the need for "a fairer distribution (of refugees) in Europe."

Germany has seen 758,000 asylum-seekers arrive between January and October this year and this has resulted in a political backlash for Merkel.

The latest anti-immigrant rally, organized in Berlin by the Alternative for Germany party, drew 5,000 people shouting "Merkel Must Go!"

In southwestern Sweden, an empty building intended to house refugees was burned to the ground, the latest suspected arson fire to hit asylum centers or buildings being renovated for refugees. In recent weeks, the Scandinavian country has seen more than 20 arson attacks as an influx of refugees has surged. Sweden expects up to 190,000 asylum-seekers this year.

In neighboring oil-rich Norway, a non-EU member, Justice Minister Anders Anundsen said the government plans to reduce benefits for refugees up to 20 percent and introduce tighter immigration rules.

The ministry's Facebook page warns would-be refugees they could be sent home if their asylum applications are turned down and that people who won't leave Norway voluntarily "will be returned by force."

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Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin, and Jan Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.