The number of refugees and migrants arriving on the Greek Aegean Islands in 2021 has reached its lowest level since the start of the so-called refugee crisis several years ago.
According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, 4,109 people crossed from Turkey to the Greek Islands in 2021. This compares to 9,714 the year before and just under 60,000 in 2019, the organization said Thursday.
At the height of the so-called refugee crisis in 2015, 856,723 people took this route and arrived on the islands of the Eastern Aegean Sea, mainly on Lesbos, Chios and Samos.
The drop in migrant arrivals in recent years is also a result of strict patrols by the Greek coast guard on its sea border with Turkey, which were stepped up in 2019.
Coast guard accused of pushbacks
Human rights organizations have repeatedly criticized the Greek coast guard and accused authorities of practicing illegal pushbacks to Turkey. The Greek government however denies these claims and underlines that its security forces protect European borders in line with international law.
As a result of these strict controls and frequent reports of alleged pushbacks, smugglers and migrants have increasingly opted for new routes to try to reach the European Union.
The so-called Calabrian route, which brings migrants from Turkey to the bottom of the Italian mainland or nearby Italian islands, is one such route that is becoming increasingly popular. At the end of November it was reported that this route had witnessed an almost four-fold increase in arrivals in 2021, comprising 16% of the sea arrivals in Italy at the time.
Fatalities and shipwrecks
Around 11,000 people are said to have managed to reach Italy in recent months from Turkey through the Aegean and Ionian seas, reports news agency dpa. While there are no official figures on how many people have died on this route, the number is believed to be considerable.
According to the UN migration agency's Missing Migrants project, at least 1,847 people have died on the eastern Mediterranean route since 2014, many of whom were believed to be headed towards Greece.
In December alone, at least 30 people drowned in the Eastern Mediterranean, according to the Greek coast guard, as the number of shipwrecks has been rising. The causes often include eingine failures or leaks on the often unseaworthy boats that smugglers sell to people, as well as harsh weather conditions.
The number of refugees and migrants residing on the Greek islands has also decreased and has dropped from around 17,000 in December 2020 to some 3,500 in December 2021. The Greek government in 2021 also launched an initiative to take most of the migrants living on the islands to the Greek mainland. However, the conditions for the remaining migrants on the Greek islands remain precarious, according to various aid organizations.