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Dozens more migrants reach a Greek island south of Crete as smugglers seek new routes

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A boat carrying 91 migrants has reached a small island south of Crete that is seeing a spike in the arrival of people attempting the long and dangerous crossing from Africa, Greek authorities said Wednesday.

A coast guard statement said the migrants, who were found on a beach on Gavdos island Tuesday, were being taken to reception areas on Crete.

They are believed to have set off from the coast of eastern Libya, about 170 nautical miles to the south. Their nationalities were not made public.

Gavdos, which lies some 27 nautical miles south of Crete, and Crete's southern coastline have seen an increase in migrant arrivals in recent months. Over the past four weeks, about a dozen boats carrying more than 600 people in total made landfall in the area or were rescued offshore.

In several cases, the Greek coast guard said they had crossed the Mediterranean Sea from the eastern Libyan port of Tobruk, having paid smuggling gangs up to $5,000 each for their passage.

The influx has put pressure on authorities on Gavdos, a summer alternative tourism destination about 29 square kilometers (11 square miles) in area that has just a few dozen residents off season.

The island's mayor has written to government officials seeking extra funding to cover arriving migrants' immediate needs for food and lodging before their transport to Crete.

Greece is a major arrival point for migrants seeking a better life in the European Union. For years, most headed for the eastern Aegean Sea islands near the Turkish mainland.

But increased Greek and European Union sea patrols in the area have prompted smuggling gangs to also seek alternative routes, including from Libya to southern Crete and from Turkey to Italy round the southern Greek mainland.

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Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration