Turkey is accusing Greece of blocking migrants in the Aegean Sea, forcing them to take longer journeys directly to southern Italy. Crammed in the hold of large sail ships or rusty fishing boats, migrants travel on desperate journeys that can last as long as a week, with little food and water, after having paid smugglers thousands of euros.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said that in the last week alone, 695 persons arrived by sea in Calabria, Italy, from Turkey.
Last year, over 15,000 were recorded on this route among the 105,000 migrants who arrived in Italy by sea in total -- roughly twice as many as in 2021.
Greece's border rejections more frequent since 2019
Turkey believes that the "Italian route" is linked to the rejection of migrants coming from the Turkish coast that Greece has started to implement more and more frequently in recent years, starting from 2019 after the electoral victory of conservative prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
No longer being able to easily reach the Greek isles, migrants choose to head towards Southern Italy, navigating around continental Greece and Crete. Last November a fishing boat with 500 crammed migrants on board was rescued after having launched an emergency call to the Greek coast guard due to the strong wind that made sailing impossible.
Ankara protests regularly against Athens' policy, denouncing the Greek goast guard ships that stop migrants arriving from Turkey leaving them at the mercy of the Aegean Sea.
According to what Turkish Coast Guards stated, in 2022, over 18.000 migrants were rejected by Greece.
"When there are rejections, the boats take to the Aegean Sea and change their destination to Italy," said Turkish Minister of Interior, Suleyman Soylu at the end of 2021, adding that Ankara had stopped 8,000 migrants en route to Italy that year alone.
Syria and Afghanistan among countries of origin of migrants
Among the persons who leave from the Turkish coasts there are still some of the 3 million and a half Syrians who live in Turkey as refugees after having fled from the conflict in their country, but the majority come from other countries such as Afghanistan, which returned under Taliban rule in 2021.
Others come from Yemen, Palestine and various African countries including Congo, Nigeria, Somalia and Eritrea. Moreover, migrants hail from Iran, Iraq and Pakistan like those on board the ship that sunk on February 26 off the coast of Steccato di Cutro, near Crotone, in Calabria.
Migrants use Turkey as a bridge to attempt to reach to Europe at all costs to leave violence and conflicts behind.
According to the representative of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on the Turkish coast, hundreds of people attempt to leave Turkey to reach the European Union every day while that number amounted to several thousand in 2015, when migrants were fleeing war in Syria.
According to witness accounts of those who managed to reach Italy, the costs for the journey are exorbitant and can be as high as €8,500 for adults and €4,000 for children, significantly higher than the prices to reach the Greek Islands.
The areas from where migrants depart are often between the most famous seaside resorts of the Turkish coastline and of the Aegean Sea, such as Bodrum but also Ayvalik, in front fo the isle of Lesbos, and Datca, Cesme and Urla in the province of Smirne.