Turkey intercepted some 315,000 irregular migrants while illegally crossing into Europe in the first nine months of this year, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu revealed yesterday.
"About 268,000 people were held in 2018. That number will likely reach 400,000 by the end of 2019," he added. "We have been trying to explain the issue of Afghan and African illegal migrants to Europe for a few years now. Unfortunately, they don't understand. Almost 45.5% of the migrants that reach Europe are Afghans," Soylu said. He added that the distance between countries did not provide protection. "If the Middle East is not safe, Paris is not safe, Berlin is not safe and other parts of the world are definitely not safe," he said.
Turkey has been a key transit point for irregular migrants aiming to cross into Europe to start new lives, especially those fleeing war and persecution. According to Interior Ministry figures, Turkey hosted 4.2 million refugees in 2017. The number has now reached 4.9 million, of whom 3.6 million are Syrians. Turkey is followed by Lebanon and Jordan which hosts 2.2 million and 1.2 million Syrian refugees, respectively. Germany has the highest number of Syrian refugees among Western countries with 770,000, followed by Sweden with 122,000.
Ankara and Brussels signed an agreement in March 2016 to find a solution to the influx of refugees heading to the EU. As part of the deal, Turkey was promised a total of 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) in financial aid. It was initially designed to be given to the country in two stages, to be used by the Turkish government to finance projects for Syrian refugees.
The deal also included visa freedom for Turkish citizens and an updated customs union. In exchange for these promises, Turkey took the responsibility of discouraging irregular migration through the Aegean Sea by taking stricter measures against human traffickers and improving the living conditions of more than 3.6 million Syrians living in Turkey. The number of refugees and migrants going through Turkey has significantly reduced as a result. It was agreed that irregular migrants arriving on the Greek islands from Turkey who do not apply for asylum or whose application has not been accepted may be returned to Turkey.