The Coast Guard announced that 208 refugees attempting to cross to Greece from the Turkish coast on Aegean Sea were rescued between Oct. 23 and Oct. 26 as part of Operation Aegean Hope.
The figure adds to the more than 66,000 migrants rescued by the Coast Guard since January as more refugees, especially from war-torn Syria, attempt to sneak into Greece, the nearest gateway from Turkey into the EU.
Coast Guard figures show only one human smuggler was detained in operations. Ayvacık, on the northwestern Turkish coast, which stretches for more than 2,600 kilometers, was the town with the most refugees intercepted at 71, followed by Didim, a seaside town further south.
Officials say the Coast Guard conducted 1,880 search and rescue operations since Jan. 1 in response to the influx of refugees.
Every day refugees wait in seaside towns on the Aegean coast from the province of Çanakkale in the north to Muğla in the south. At night and sometimes in broad daylight, they hop onto rafts arranged by smugglers to travel to the Greek islands that sit a few kilometers away from the Turkish coast. The small inflatable boats are capable of carrying up to four people, but desperate migrants who risk capsizing the boats travel in the dozens. Though a few boats make it to the Greek islands daily, the rest of the scores of boats usually end up capsizing, with refugees struggling to swim to safety.
The Coast Guard stepped up measures and patrols in May after a surge in the number of refugees, but the number of refugees kept rising, especially after the escalating threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, two southern neighbors of Turkey. Turkey has more than 2 million Syrian refugees, but only a small number of them live in refugee camps across from the Syrian border while many others struggle to survive on the streets.
It was anticipated that the number of refugees would decrease with the onset of bad weather last month hindering attempts at sea crossing, but nevertheless, dozens of refugees are still intercepted daily on the Aegean Sea, resilient despite the history of deaths in overcrowded boats.
Experts say that the worsening crisis in Syria could trigger further waves of refugee. More than 2 million Syrians are expected to flee Aleppo, a major Syrian city controlled by rebels, if it falls entirely to ISIS.
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