More Afghans than Syrians have migrated to the European Union so far this year, according to official data. The number is expected to double next year.
Turkey’s attack on Kurdish-controlled northeast of Syria has
led to expectations of a new wave of asylum seekers from Syria. But EU
officials say an increasing number of Afghans poses a more immediate problem, especially
in the Greek islands where many of them first arrive.
Since the beginning of the year, nearly 17,000 Afghans have crossed the Aegean sea to reach EU shores, the latest data from the EU border agency Frontex show.
Around half of them had been living in Iran before attempting the crossing through Turkey into the EU, a senior EU official told Reuters, adding that in many cases Afghan migrants arriving in Europe were born in Iran.
They are leaving because "the US policy has significantly deteriorated the economic situation in Iran," the official said. Iran's economy has been affected by US sanctions imposed last year, causing Afghan workers to leave in search of better ways to support their families still in Afghanistan, according to Iranian officials.
Afghans continue to flee their country
The situation in Afghanistan remains dangerous, with Taliban militants now controlling more territory than at any time in nearly two decades.
There are currently about 2 million Afghans in Iran, Afghan officials said. Nearly 800,000 left last year according to the International Organization for Migration.
In 2018, about 12,000 Afghans were recorded to have entered Europe by irregular means. That number could now double, according to Reuters.
Most of the Afghans have landed on Greek islands, where facilities are overstretched. It is estimated that more than 13,000 people are now crammed into the Moria camp on Lesbos, which was designed to accommodate 3,100.
EU officials stressed that the situation remained manageable and was not nearly as critical as in 2015, when more than 1 million migrants reached Europe. 25% of them were from Afghanistan.
Greek islands severely overcrowded
But one EU official said the situation on the Greek islands was becoming "disturbing" once again, Reuters reports, while German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer warned last week that the EU risked a repeat of the 2015 chaos if member states did not adopt a common policy on migration.
In total, about 80,000 migrants have reached the EU in the first nine months of this year.
The number of Syrians seeking asylum in the EU has fallen to about 10,000 this year, from more than half a million in 2015, but they again being forced to flee their homes. More than 130,000 people have been displaced in northeast Syria since the beginning of a Turkish offensive last week, the United Nations said.