Crew on migrant freighter charged by Greek authorities

Ierapetra (Greece) (AFP) - Seven crew members from a freighter found drifting early this week with nearly 600 migrants on board have been charged with people smuggling, Greek authorities said on Saturday.

Their ship, the Barsis, was towed to the Greek island of Crete on Tuesday and the migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq -- a quarter of them women and children -- were brought ashore after two days of medical checks.

The Barsis, which is registered in the small Pacific island nation of Kiribati, was rescued after being adrift in the Aegean Sea for two days. It had set sail from Turkey.

The seven crew members, all men aged between 30 and 50 years old, were among 21 people detained Thursday, the Athens News Agency reported.

They were to give their depositions on Monday.

"The migrants told me that paid 3,000 euros ($3,700) each in order to travel to Europe in a decent way," Hani Massout, a doctor at the Aghios Nikolaos Hospital on Crete told AFP.

The Syrians who made up three-quarters of the migrants were being temporarily housed in an indoor sports hall in the coastal town of Ierapetra. The others were being transported to immigration detention facilities all over Greece.

Twenty-eight children unaccompanied by parents or relatives were to be sent to child protection centres, one official told AFP.

Greece is one of the main entry points into the European Union for migrants from Africa, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. Many are fleeing conflicts, though some are from relatively stable areas and seeking improved economic prospects.

Syrians are increasingly looking for refuge in Europe, to escape the brutal war in their country that has killed more than 200,000 people over the past two and a half years.

Some 28,000 Syrians have been caught entering Greece without visas since January, compared to 8,500 for all of last year.