Amid a war of words between Turkey and the European Union, which is accused of dragging its feet in its part of the deal to curb migrant influx, more migrants are risking their lives to reach Europe. Yesterday the Turkish Coast Guard intercepted a dry-cargo vessel packed with 360 migrants from various countries off the coast of Çanakkale (Dardanelles) Strait in western Turkey. The captain and two crew members were detained, while migrants were relocated to a migrant center. The vessel, sailing from the northern part of Istanbul, was heading to the Aegean region, where hundreds perished last year while trying to reach the popular European-gateway, Greece.
The ship ran aground while trying to evade the pursuing Coast Guard after migrants boarded it from the Çanakkale shoreline.
Although Turkey managed to decrease the number of migrants risking their lives on the rough Aegean Sea to reach nearby Greek islands after the deal in March, many, especially Syrians fleeing conflict at home, still board boats to reach Europe. Under the deal with the EU, the favorite destination of migrants from impoverished, war-torn regions in Asia and the Middle East, Turkey agreed to take back "irregular migrants" of several nationalities from Greece in exchange for the relocation of Syrian refugees in Turkey to European Union countries. Hundreds of migrants were brought to Turkey, though the low number is viewed as a failure of the deal according to the EU. The bloc has also pledged a visa waiver for Turks and an acceleration of Turkey's accession talks as part of the deal.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently warned that the deal may collapse if the union does not hold up its side on visa waivers, while EU officials imply scrapping the deal if Turkey continues its anti-terror crackdown, seen as problematic by the union.
Elsewhere, Greek Cypriot police rescued 123 migrants, believed to be Syrians, who were left adrift off Cyprus' northwest coast by a boat captain who made off on a jet ski yesterday.
The 42 children, 19 women and 62 men were all in good health, including a woman who had given birth at sea and was admitted to hospital as a precaution, a civil defense statement said.
Police said they were still checking identity papers, but at least nine of the migrants had previously been deported from Cyprus.
Police believe that the boat, which was spotted off the coast on Wednesday, had set sail from the Turkish port of Mersin.
The migrants said they had paid $2,200 a head to be brought to the island, the state-run Cyprus News Agency (CNA) said.
EU member Cyprus lies just 100 kilometers (60 miles) off the Syrian coast, but has so far avoided a mass influx of refugees like that which is passing through the Balkans to Western Europe.
However, there has been an increase in people smuggling from Turkey in recent months. In October, 83 Syrian migrants were rescued in similar circumstances.
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