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Turkish coastguard pick up 150 migrants in nighttime swoop

Ankara: Using radar and backed by a large patrol vessel, Turkey’s coastguard picked up over 150 migrants seeking to cross to Greece in flimsy dinghies during a nighttime swoop on their routes across the Aegean Sea.

Turkish coastguards patrolling off the resort of Cesme in western Turkey picked up on a single night 152 migrants seeking to travel the short distance to the Greek island of Chios.

Three large dinghies each packed with dozens of migrants were picked up by the coastguards over a four-hour period overnight yesterday, an AFP photographer on board the coastguard vessel saw.

The Turkish coastguard vessel Umut used radar to spot the migrants after they set off from beaches on the Cesme coast bound for Greece.

When a migrant dinghy was identified, speedboats were sent from the Umut to apprehend the dinghy and tow it back towards the mother ship.

They were then taken back to the Turkish shore aboard smaller boats and handed over to the Turkish gendarmerie.

Some of the migrants appeared to initially want to resist the authorities but then complied when the scale of the coastguard deployment — including the Umut — became apparent, the photographer said.

While the ship was deployed all night, no more migrants were found after 1:00 am, with migrants wanting to cross apparently put off by the presence of the Umut.

After a key agreement with the European Union last month, Ankara appears to have stepped up efforts to stop migrants from leaving its soil in search of better opportunities in EU member states.

In a major operation last week, some 4,000 migrants were picked up in the Aegean Sea.

The European Union wants Turkey to step up its patrolling and stopping of migrants in exchange for a kick-starting of its long-stalled EU membership bid.

The EU has also called for tougher action against the people smugglers who coordinate the movements of migrants, who are from countries including Syria and Afghanistan.

Almost 890,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, according to the latest UN figures.

Meanwhile, Turkish prosecutors on Thursday demanded 35-year jail terms for two alleged people smugglers blamed for the death of a three-year-old boy which came to symbolise Syria’s refugee crisis, local media reported.

The sight of Aylan Kurdi’s body, face down in the sand on a beach outside the resort of Bodrum, caused an outpouring of anger across the world, pressuring European leaders to begin to tackle the refugee crisis.