Earlier in the year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hoped to gain political leverage by threatening to send migrants and refugees into the EU. But numbers published by the European Commission show that his attempts were futile — largely because of the extent of the global pandemic slowing down migration patterns.
The number of irregular migrants entering the European Union through Greece has fallen sharply in the first two quarters of 2020 compared to numbers from the previous year. The European Commission said in a confidential report seen by the German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag that 10,257 people had crossed the Turkish border into EU territory since January. The number is almost half that of the same period in 2019, when 19,812 migrants made their way into the EU from Turkey.
The majority of the migrants who arrived in the EU from Turkey this year landed in Greece — a total of 9,682 people. Another 275 traveled to Italy, 289 to Cyprus and eleven migrants arrived in Bulgaria.
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had opened the Turkish side of the border in March after accusing the European Union of meddling in Turkey's management of and involvement in the civil war in northern Syria. Turkey's military incursions in the Idlib region at the time attracted global criticism amid high numbers of civilian casualties.
The Turkish government said, in response to the criticism, that it would unleash up to 100,000 Syrians living in Turkey on the EU by opening its borders — in defiance of the 2016 EU-Turkey deal designed to curb the number of people who make it across the border without papers.
After an initial increase in the numbers of migrants and refugees heading for the Turkish-Greek border, numbers stalled especially once the COVID-19 crisis reached Europe.
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The European Commission document also showed that the number of asylum seekers lodging applications in the EU was the highest in Spain, with 45,736 people currently being processed for asylum there in the first half of 2020.
Germany took second place with 41,158 asylum applications, with about a quarter of all applicants in Germany coming from Syria. With 36,817 applicants, France was third in the evaluation.
Italy, which is continuing to battle with new arrivals departing from Libya and Tunisia had a mere 11,324 applications lodged in the first six months of 2020. However, that number is likely showing as lower in relation to the actual number of arrivals, as many government offices were permanently closed in Italy during the COVID-19 lockdown.