RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
It is worth considering on this day the millions of people around the world who are refugees fleeing war. Many trying to escape the fighting in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq try to reach Europe. About 700 refugees are on a broken-down freighter in the Mediterranean Sea right now under tow by the Greek Coast Guard. Joanna Kakissis has the story from Athens.
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The Greek Coast Guard says the 250-foot cargo ship was headed to Italy when its engine failed. Hundreds of migrants, including women and children, are on board. The Greek Navy towed the ship through rough waters to the port of Ierapetra in southern Crete. The mayor of Ierapetra, Theodosios Kalantzakis, says local authorities and aid workers have turned an indoor basketball court into a shelter.
THEODOSIOS KALANTZAKIS: (Speaking Greek).
KAKISSIS: This space can't house them for long, Kalantzakis says, but we had to put them somewhere until they go to migrant detention centers. Most of those on the ship are refugees from Syria and Afghanistan, he says. Amnesty International says that more than 2,500 people have died this year trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to make it to Europe. The number of undocumented migrants arriving in Greece has tripled this year, says merchant Marine Minister Miltiades Varvitsiotis.
MILTIADES VARVITSIOTIS: We estimate that in 2014, we are going to receive more than 30,000 illegal immigrants.
KAKISSIS: Most refugees from Syria and Afghanistan enter Turkey by land and then travel by sea to Greece and to Greek islands, such as Chios, where harbormaster Ylannis Argyrakis has his staff on patrol 24 hours a day.
YLANNIS ARGYRAKIS: (Speaking Greek).
KAKISSIS: Some come by speedboats, and Turkish smugglers leave them on a beach, Argyrakis says. Others travel on their own on small, inflatable boats. And no matter how bad the weather is, he says, they still want to cross. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.
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