The coast guard on Monday stopped a luxury yacht that they had suspected of smuggling rich clients into Greece, discovering inside the yacht 86 Syrian refugees who were heading to Greek island of Chios from Çeşme, a popular vacation resort on Turkey's western coast. When they searched the captain's cabin, they found men who were apparently smuggling the large group. Three men were confirmed to be Ukrainian nationals. A Turkish and an Iraqi national accused of smuggling were also detained. The coast guard boat brought refugees back to the port, where they were given food and water.
An increased crackdown on human smugglers had lessened the refugee stream from Turkey to Greece, refugees' favorite gateway to Europe due to its islands' proximity to Turkey's Aegean shores. The incident on Monday may mark the first time that citizens of a third country, apart from local smugglers and Syrians themselves, were nabbed in an operation against illegal immigration. An Iraqi man accused of helping the smugglers was also detained. State-run Anadolu Agency (AA) reported that the smugglers planned to transport illegal immigrants to Italy and each migrant on board paid $5,500 for the journey. The news agency also reported one of the Ukrainians detained in the operation was the owner of the 13-meter-long boat.
The Turkish coast guard announced a significant drop in the number of migrants who sought to reach Greece via the Turkish sea route in February and March. The figures, announced almost one year after a European Union-Turkey deal to curb the migrant flow to Europe, show only 230 people were discovered attempting to cross into Greece in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas between Feb. 24 and March 3.
Both seas are tightly patrolled by the coast guard since the upsurge in the number of migrants in the wake of the conflict in Syria, Turkey's southern neighbor.
As more refugees who took shelter in Turkey sought to cross into Europe, the EU struggled to respond to the influx and was forced to seal a deal with Turkey in March 2016 where Turkey was to take back Syrian refugees who reached the Greek islands in exchange for more funds designated for the care of refugees in Turkey.