Greek authorities break up migrant smuggling ring

Greek authorities say they have broken up a migrant smuggling ring that had been operating on the eastern Aegean island of Kos, bringing people from the nearby Turkish coast to the island and facilitating their movement to the Greek mainland

ATHENS, Greece -- Greek authorities say they have broken up a migrant smuggling ring that had been operating on the eastern Aegean island of Kos, bringing people from the nearby Turkish coast to the island and facilitating their movement to the Greek mainland.

According to a coast guard statement released Tuesday, the arrest of five foreign nationals in the island’s main town last Friday led to an investigation after which four Greeks, aged between 29 and 48, and one 25-year-old foreign national were arrested on charges related to the operation of a criminal organization.

According to authorities, the foreign national and one of the Greek suspects had allegedly been arranging for migrants to be transported from Turkey to Kos, while two of the other Greeks were providing accommodation for those who arrived at hotels. Three foreign nationals under the age of 18 were found during a search of the home of one of the suspects, the coast guard said.

The nationalities of the arrested foreigners were not made public.

Greece is a popular route into the European Union for people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. The vast majority make their way to the Aegean islands from the nearby Turkish coast.

But the Greek government has been cracking down. On Monday, the coast guard said authorities had arrested the 25-year-old father of a 6-year-old Afghan boy who died the previous day while trying to get to the island of Samos. The father faces charges of endangering a life. When loss of life is involved, the charges can lead to a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Although those found to have steered migrant boats and dinghies to Greek islands are frequently arrested on smuggling charges, it is rare for the surviving parents of children who die in shipwrecks or other accidents to be charged with endangerment.

In September, authorities opened a felony case file against 35 foreign nationals — 33 of them members of non-governmental organizations — for allegedly facilitating the clandestine arrival of migrants to the island of Lesbos.

The case file was opened on suspicion of crimes including espionage, violation of state secrets, participating in a criminal organization and violating migration laws.