The number of refugees reaching Europe by sea dropped in November for the first time this year. The drop has been attributed to inclement weather and Turkish efforts to stem the flow of migrants.
Nearly 140,000 refugees and migrants crossed the sea to reach Europe in November, a nearly one-third drop from some 220,000 migrant arrivals in October, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.
"The monthly figure for November is the first one this year that actually shows a decrease compared to the previous one," UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson William Spindler said.
"The reasons for the slowdown in the number of arrivals have to do with fluctuating climate conditions in the Aegean but also a crackdown on smuggling by Turkish authorities," Spindler said.
The number of refugees and migrants reaching Europe this year may top the symbolic one million number by the end of December, with 886,662 migrants and refugees reaching Europe so far this year.
Most refugees, half of whom are from war-torn Syria, reach Europe by sea from Turkey to Greece, a dangerous journey that has claimed many lives this year.
Half of the refugees making the sea crossing from Turkey are children and women.
Key lies with Turkey
To stem the flow of refugees, the EU and Turkey struck a deal over the weekend that would provide 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) in aid, visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and talks on advancing Turkey's stalled EU membership application.
In exchange, Turkish authorities promised to clamp down on human trafficking rings, boost border security and take back migrants who do not qualify for asylum in the EU.
Turkey is also expected to raise the living standards of over two million refugees currently living in the country.
In what appeared to be an immediate implementation of the EU-Turkey deal, Turkish authorities on Monday said they had broken up a human trafficking ring and detained 1,300 migrants before they crossed the sea.
The EU's goal is to separate, process and accept Syrian refugees in Turkey in an orderly manner and avoid the disorganized type of crisis that has hit Europe this year.
Under the plan, asylum requests from war-torn countries like Syria and Iraq would be processed, while economic migrants from places like Africa, Bangladesh or Pakistan would be deported.
cw/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)