Refugees being escorted by Turkish police as they arrive by ferry. PHOTO/EPA/MERT CAKIR
Refugees being escorted by Turkish police as they arrive by ferry. PHOTO/EPA/MERT CAKIR

An upswing has been seen recently in the number of migrants trying to get to Europe from Turkey, the vast majority of whom are using boats on the Aegean Sea to do so.

In the first eight months of the year, Turkish authorities stopped 16,617 people trying to reach EU shores without regular documents, a 37 percent increase on the same period of the previous year. Reports were from the Turkish news agency Anadolu. Almost all were trying to land on Greek islands via the Aegean Sea. 

Peak in May, numbers dropped in August 

The highest number of people stopped was 3,000 in May, while the numbers dropped sharply in August, when only 1,475 were intercepted. That's an 80 percent decrease on the previous year. 

From January to August, the figures show that over 63 migrants and refugees died in attempts to cross to Europe from Turkey via sea, over double the number in 2017. 

Possible regime offensive in NW Syria causes more to flee 

Security sources say that the increase in attempts to flee is in part due to lasting instability in Syria, which makes it ever less likely that refugees in Turkey will return to their home country. In recent days alarm has been raised on the risk of another wave of migration towards Turkey is a vast offensive threatened by the Syrian regime backed by Russia and Iran were to take place in the northwestern province of Idlib, the last stronghold of opposition forces. The UN has estimated that about 800,000 new refugees may result. 

Turkey steps up arrests of human traffickers 

Along with attempts to flee to Europe, as indicated by Turkish interior ministry figures, there are ever more activities by local authorities to fight against illegal migration. In August, 545 suspected human traffickers were arrested on charges of having organized attempts to cross to Europe via sea or having facilitated other illegal entries, an increase on the 383 the previous month. 

On the hotly debated March 2016 agreement with Brussels, the number of people who reach the EU every day from Turkey has dropped significantly. UNHCR says that since the beginning of the year, some 19,951 people have landed on Greek shores, an average of a few dozen every day. Over half are Syrians and Iraqis. 

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