Not a single refugee has died in Aegean Sea for past 100 days

Published 27.06.2016 20:31
Updated 27.06.2016 20:32
Migrants disembark from a Coast Guard boat after their boat was intercepted in the Aegean town of Dikili.
Migrants disembark from a Coast Guard boat after their boat was intercepted in the Aegean town of Dikili.

Turkey's efforts to stop the influx of Syrian refugees into Europe via Aegean shores has paid off, as no deaths or major boat accidents involving migrants were reported in the last 100 days, thanks to a deal between the country and the European Union

Figures provided by the Turkish Coast Guard patrolling the waters of the Aegean Sea show there have been no refugee deaths in the last 100 days - a significant success after hundreds drowned en route to Europe in the past two years. Turkey's repeated calls to the international community to stop deadly migration and thriving migrant smuggling in the wake of the Syrian conflict culminated in a deal with the European Union, the primary destination for thousands of displaced Syrians. Due to the proximity of Turkish coasts to the Greek islands, Greece was the country of choice both for migrants from war-torn Syria as well as migrants from other Asian and African countries.

In March, Turkey signed an agreement with the EU that stipulates the readmission of migrants from Europe who crossed into the continent after March 20, in exchange for the resettlement of Syrian migrants from camps in southern Turkey to European countries. The agreement also promises the acceleration of Turkey's EU membership bid and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals within the Schengen area.

The agreement was followed by a major drop in the number of people seeking to reach the Greek islands. The agreement was aimed at breaking the people-smuggling gangs that were trafficking refugees across the Aegean Sea in non-seaworthy boats. According to Coast Guard data, 521 refugees died of hypothermia or drowned in Turkish territorial waters between 2014 and March 2016.

The first three months of 2016 saw 173 die in Turkish territorial waters, while 279 died in 2015 and 69 died in 2014. Figures also show refugee voyages from western Turkey fell by more than 90 percent after the deal was signed.

Migrants have begun to return to Turkey on comfortable ferries, instead of the overcrowded and dangerous boats, which were primarily used by refugees to get to Greece prior to March, when a deal between Turkey and the EU went into effect earlier in April. Dozens of migrants, mostly Asian, have returned from Greece as a result of the deal.

The agreement remains precarious, as Turkey accuses the EU of drawing out the acceptance of conditions for a visa-free travel for Turkish citizens, and a relaxation of strict criteria on membership. Turkey has delayed final approval of the deal over a series of disagreements with the EU, Turkish media outlets reported earlier this month. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned the EU bloc that the readmission agreement would not be ratified in Parliament, should visa liberalization fail to be realized by June 30. In February, the president warned Europe of a possible end to the agreement, saying that Turkey could let refugees through its borders to Europe, warning that "the planes and buses are not there for nothing." Facing an unprecedented flow of refugees and migrants from around the world fleeing conflicts and poverty, unprecedented since World War II, the EU has turned to Turkey for help. Ankara responded by approving a deal for the resettlement of migrants and a heightened clampdown on migrant smugglers, further relieving Europe of the burden of illegal migrants. Turkey hosts more than 2.7 million refugees, and only a tiny fraction stay in refugee camps near the border with Syria. The rest are dependent on aid and the little income that they earn thanks to work permits which Turkey introduced earlier this year. The country of 78 million has been praised for its hospitality for refugees despite its limited means, while Ankara criticizes the international community for taking in only a few refugees. Turkey was one of the first countries to open its doors to Syrian refugees displaced by war and sever ties with the brutal Assad regime, which has violently suppressed opposition.

The powerful image of the two-year-old Syrian boy named Aylan Kurdi, whose lifeless body washed ashore on a Turkish beach last year, triggered widespread grief concerning the refugee crisis, giving rise to pressure on European countries to do more for refugees, including accepting more. Yet it took months and hundreds more deaths before European Union member states were able to set aside their differences concerning which countries should take in more refugees and to seal a deal with Turkey. Fewer migrants are heading to Europe now, and mostly through the safer land route. It is likely that it will take more time for a complete end to the flow of refugees as Syria, currently the main source of refugees as millions have been displaced in the war-torn country, is still embroiled in conflict, exacerbated by the rise of the DAESH terrorist organization.

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