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Migrant arrivals in Europe from Turkey rise sharply

Chase Winter
December 17, 2019

According to a confidential EU report, 70,000 migrants have crossed from Turkey to the EU this year. The numbers raise questions about whether an EU-Turkey refugee deal is unravelling.

Refugees and migrants wait to be transferred to camps
Image: Reuters/C. Baltas

The number of migrants and refugees crossing from Turkey to Europe rose sharply in comparison with last year, according to a confidential EU report published by German media.

From January to mid-December, 70,002 migrants reached the European Union from Turkey, representing a jump of 46% compared with the same period in 2018, Die Welt reported on Tuesday.

Read more: Germany: Thousands of migrants return after deportation, report says

Around 68,000 of these migrants crossed the Aegean Sea to Greece, where they are living in overcrowded migrant camps. Smaller numbers reached Bulgaria, Italy and Cyprus.

In a new development, most migrants came from Afghanistan. Their share is now 30%, while the proportion of asylum applications from Syria is only 14%, followed by Pakistanis (9.5%), Iraqis (8.0%) and citizens of Turkey (5%).

Greece: Refugees suffering on Samos

What is the situation on the ground?

The arrivals in Greece have put extreme pressure on overcrowded refugee camps on the Aegean islands. There is a lack of food, clothing and medicine. The Greek government is transferring more and more asylum seekers onto the mainland.

According to the EU-Turkey migrant deal, this is only granted if those concerned are especially "vulnerable" because they are unaccompanied children or they are sick or pregnant.

Read more: Refugees endure living hell of Greece's Moria camp on Lesbos

What does this mean for the EU-Turkey deal?

The development raises questions about the extent to which Turkey is complying with the 2016 refugee agreement with the European Union, Die Welt reported.

Read more: How the EU-Turkey refugee deal works

Under the deal, Turkey is obliged to take back asylum-seekers who passed through its territory and to prevent them from crossing to Europe. In exchange, Turkey receives a total of €6 billion ($6.7 billion) in funding to help with the Syrian refugee crisis. Ankara has repeatedly complained that the EU is not living up to its obligations and demanded more funds.

"It has been reported that in some situations Turkish patrol boats have not intervened and even pushed refugee boats into Greek waters after being notified by the Greek coast guard," the confidential EU report states.

Read more: Questions surround Greece's stricter course on refugees 

What happens to the migrants?

A core element of the deal is that migrants stay on the islands so that they have no chance to travel onwards to other EU member states.

From the beginning of this year to mid-December, 34,000 migrants were brought to the Greek mainland. According to the EU report, some stay in Greece, but many try to reach the Albanian border and from there travel on with the help of smugglers, through the Balkans to Austria and Germany.

Return to Kabul: Afghan deportees 1 year on

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