Turkish security forces rescued or held some 352 irregular migrants over a 24-hour period on Monday and Tuesday across a number of provinces in Turkey, as the country continues to be a key transit point for migrants fleeing conflict-ridden countries and aiming to cross into Europe to start new lives.
According to a statement, security units were tipped off that a large group of foreign nationals were at a social establishment located on the highway.
All 101 migrants, who had entered Turkey at different times, were held and two suspected human traffickers were arrested.
In the Belen district of southern Hatay province, at least 28 migrants who were all Syrian nationals and had illegally entered the country were held.
Acting on a tip, security teams stopped three vehicles and identified the migrants, according to local security sources.
While the migrants were sent to the local migration office, legal action was initiated against the three Syrian drivers.
Separately, a Turkish coast guard team was dispatched off the coast of Ayvacık in northwestern Çanakkale province to rescue 25 asylum-seekers.
The asylum-seekers were trying to reach Europe by sailboat, according to a statement by the Coast Guard Command.
Another 43 asylum-seekers, who were pushed back by the Greek coast guard into Turkish territorial waters in the Aegean Sea, were also rescued in Çanakkale.
Four suspects were arrested for alleged human trafficking while the asylum-seekers were sent to the local migration office.
Another group of 25 asylum-seekers was rescued by the Turkish coast guard, who were conducting a routine patrol off the coast of Bodrum in Muğla province.
Additionally, three asylum-seekers that were pushed back by the Greek coast guard into Turkish territorial waters reached Kuşadası in western Aydin province by swimming after a lifeboat did not take them.
A coast guard team learned that the asylum-seekers – all Syrian nationals – were stranded on the shore with no vehicle access. The three were later sent to the local migration office.
Meanwhile, acting on a tip, the Turkish coast guard rescued 10 asylum-seekers from a rubber boat off the coast of Çeşme in western Izmir province, said a source, who asked not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media.
Another coast guard team was dispatched off Seferihisar in Izmir province after learning that 41 asylum-seekers were stranded on a rubber boat. They were later taken to the provincial migration office.
On Tuesday, Turkish coastal units also rescued 76 more irregular migrants pushed back by Greece toward Turkish territorial waters in the Aegean Sea in western Izmır and Aydın provinces.
According to the statement made by the Coast Guard Command, a coast guard boat, which was directed to the region upon the information that there were migrants in a rubber boat off the coast of Dikili, rescued 10 migrants in a rubber boat who were pushed back into Turkish territorial waters by Greek authorities.
Again, 20 more asylum-seekers, who were left in Turkish territorial waters by Greek authorities, were rescued in two life rafts off the coast of Dikili.
Upon receiving the information that there was a group of migrants in rubber boats off the coast of Kuşadası, Aydın, the coast guard boats were directed to the region. The coast guard rescued 46 migrants in rubber boats that were pushed back into Turkish territorial waters.
Turkey has been a key transit point for asylum-seekers aiming to cross into Europe to start new lives, especially those fleeing war and persecution.
Turkey and human rights groups have repeatedly condemned Greece's illegal practice of pushing back asylum-seekers, saying it violates humanitarian values and international law by endangering the lives of vulnerable migrants, including women and children.
Pushbacks are considered contrary to international refugee protection agreements that outline people should not be expelled or returned to a country where their life or safety might be in danger due to their race, religion, nationality, or membership of a social or political group.
Turkey already hosts nearly 4 million Syrian migrants, more than any country in the world. Officials say the country cannot handle another refugee wave.
In March 2016, the EU and Turkey reached an agreement to stop irregular migration through the Aegean Sea and improve the conditions of more than 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.
The deal has been successful in stemming the flow of migrants and refugees, but the EU’s reluctance to take in refugees from Turkey, and bureaucratic hurdles in transferring promised funds for refugees, have led to sharp criticism from Turkish politicians.
Ankara criticized the EU for failing to fulfill its pledge to provide funding for migrants and refugees in Turkey as part of the pact while allocating billions of euros to Greece.
Five years on, the pact is failing as Turkey struggles with increased numbers of migrants, while the EU is more divided than ever over its asylum policy.
"The proposed new financial aid package is for Syrian refugees, not Turkey, and is essentially a step to be taken to ensure the EU's own peace and security. Reducing migration cooperation to just a financial dimension is a big mistake. Aiming for close cooperation in this area would be beneficial for everyone," it said.
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