The EU-Turkey deal has made a “huge impact” on the arrival of refugees via the Mediterranean to Greece, decreasing their numbers from nearly a million in 2015 to under 30,000 in 2017, U.N. migration agency IOM spokesman Joel Millman told state-run Anadolu Agency on April 18.
This year the figure is around 7,000 so far, Millman said.
“We believe the arrangement that the EU has with Turkey started having a huge impact after March 2016 on the number of refugees arriving in Greece from Turkey by sea,” he added.
Some 36 percent of Mediterranean refugee arrivals into Europe came via the Aegean this year so far. In 2015 before the EU-Turkey deal, 80 percent of arrivals into Europe came via the Aegean from Turkey into Greece.
According to the U.N., 19 refugees have died so far in the Aegean between Turkey and Greece this year.
After the EU-Turkey deal the refugee death toll in the Aegean also dropped from 805 in 2015 to 434 in 2016, 61 in 2017, and 19 in 2018 so far.
The EU-Turkey deal aims to prevent deaths by discouraging irregular migration through the Aegean by taking stricter measures against human smugglers and improving the conditions of Syrian refugees in Turkey. However, refugees choose to travel longer and take the more deadly sea journey from Africa to Italy, considered the deadliest in the Mediterranean.
Arrivals to Spain
“The departures from almost everywhere to Europe by sea are down remarkably from last year. The only place where they have not gone down is Spain,” Millman said.
According to the IOM, Mediterranean refugee arrivals to Spain are on the rise, from 2,426 this time last year to 3,499 so far this year. Deaths on the route have gone up from 51 last year this time to 179 so far this year.
About 17,000 migrants entered Europe so far this year, compared with 37,000 at this point in 2017 and over 175,000 at this point in 2016, Millman added.
Overall, a total of 559 refugees have died in the Mediterranean so far this year compared with 918 at this time in 2017, a decline of about 40 percent year-on-year, according to the U.N. official.
“Comparing the decrease on the number of refugee arrivals into Europe, the percentage of decrease on death toll is lower,” Millman said, adding that volumes are down but deaths are not down as quite much as the volume.
“Smugglers have to use worse boats and put more people in. The routes are the same but l think smugglers are using more risky crafts. If a rubber boat can take 70 people safely, they put in 100 or 130 people. I think that is the main reason,” he said, adding that the weather in Mediterranean region is now getting warmer.
“We are worried about a possible new influx to Europe and a rise in deaths in the Mediterranean during summer. Summer has always been the worst. In the past we had months where thousands of people were dying,” Millman said.