Migrants rescued off Lefkada on Greece-Italy sea route

A Greek coastguard rescue of migrants - Sep 2015 file pic Image copyright AFP
Image caption A Greek rescue in 2015: It is rare for such operations to take place off Greece's west coast

Greek rescuers have picked up 29 migrants at sea off the western island of Lefkada as they headed for Italy.

It is the first time migrants have been rescued trying to cross from Greece to Italy since Greece's land border with Macedonia was closed in March.

The migrants, whose nationalities remain unknown, were found adrift in the Ionian Sea on Sunday.

Their dinghy was apparently left adrift by their smugglers, the BBC's Thomas Fessy reports from Athens.

The migrants had sailed from Lefkada and were picked up about 15 nautical mile (27km) from the island. Two children, aged four and five, were among the group.

Italy lies about 240km (150 miles) from Lefkada.

Our correspondent says the discovery of the boat by Greek coastguards may raise concerns about a new smuggling route - one that could bring more tragedies at sea.

Until the border closure in March hundreds of thousands of migrants - many of them refugees from the Syrian civil war - streamed north through Greece, heading for Germany via the Balkans.

But border controls have since been tightened, leaving many asylum seekers stranded in Greece.

The EU has also struck a deal with Turkey to stem the flow of people risking their lives on flimsy boats crossing to Greece's Aegean islands.

In the past week the focus has switched to the central Mediterranean, because of a surge in the numbers of migrants making the long, perilous voyage from Libya to Lampedusa and Sicily. Italy and its EU partners are struggling to shut down the route.

The Italian authorities said the rescue of more than 600 migrants off Libya on Saturday by a flotilla of EU ships took the weekly total to at least 13,000.