Turkish security forces intercepted 26,678 irregular migrants seeking safety in Europe in the seas surrounding the country in 2018, according to security sources.
Sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on talking to the media, said the number of migrants intercepted at sea increased 21.6 percent compared with 2017.
At least 96 migrants died of drowning or hypothermia in the Aegean, Mediterranean and Black seas in 2018 - of which 65 died in the Aegean sea. This is an increase from the total 56 migrants who died of drowning or hypothermia in 2017. Additionally, 87 people were arrested for alleged human smuggling.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of migrants flee from civil conflict or economic hardship in their home countries with hopes of reaching Europe.
While some are able to make the perilous journey over land or sea via human smugglers, many are stopped by security forces before crossing the border to Europe.
There were 25,398 migrants rounded up in the Aegean Sea in 2018, which is 95 percent of the total migrants who came by sea last year.
Turkish security forces have intercepted over 1 million irregular migrants in the last 10 years - a figure that exceeds the total population of 60 provinces in Turkey.
Turkey has been the main route for refugees trying to cross into Europe, especially since the beginning of the civil war in Syria.
Last year, around 176,000 irregular migrants were intercepted across Turkey, while security forces rounded up some 175,000 others. Meanwhile, Turkish security forces have arrested nearly 25,600 human smugglers in the last nine years.
Turkey's seas, particularly the Aegean in the west, have seen a large influx recently with more migrants boarding dinghies to reach Europe. They travel in overcrowded and unsafe boats to reach the Greek islands scattered across the Aegean region and only a few kilometers away from Turkish shores. Deaths are common in these crossings as many migrants, despite paying thousands of dollars to smugglers, are forced to travel in rubber boats crowded far beyond their capacity.
In March 2016, the EU and Turkey reached an agreement to stop irregular migration through the Aegean Sea and improve the conditions of the more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. An exchange program to return migrants that previously entered Europe to Turkey and settle Syrian refugees in EU countries failed to curb the migrant flow, as the high number of illegal migrants intercepted by Turkey indicates.
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