The Turkish Coast Guard Command announced that last month it intercepted the highest number of migrants since October 2016. The Coast Guard said that it caught 3,408 migrants offshore in September and a further 15,470 more were held back over the last nine months.
Turkish security forces on the Aegean, Mediterranean and Black Seas regularly find migrants illegally traveling en route to Europe, risking death in the process, the Coast Guard Command told Anadolu Agency (AA).
This year, 756 people in January and 719 in February were caught trying to make the dangerous journey. That number doubled in March to 1,501 and 1,551 others were apprehended in April. These numbers rose dramatically in August to 2,668 before rising to over 3,400 in September.
The Black Sea has become a new route for migrants trying to make their way into European countries. Since Sept. 22, there have not been any recorded illegal crossings over the Black Sea thanks to joint action taken by law-enforcement officers from Turkey's Interior Ministry and the Coast Guard.
Since the beginning of 2017, 51 people have lost their lives in dangerous sea journeys and the Coast Guard is searching for 14 more missing migrants.
An incident, where a fishing boat carrying migrants sank, killing 24 people off Turkey's northwestern Kocaeli-Kefken coast, was the deadliest refugee incident at sea since April 2016.
A total of 5,168 migrants were stopped by Turkey's Gendarmerie and Coast Guard before they could reach the sea. In the past seven years, the country has intercepted 644,171 irregular migrants, according to the latest statistics.
The country is both a transit and final destination for migrants, particularly from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Congo, Bangladesh, Somalia and the Palestinian territories.
Turkey and the European Union signed a deal in 2016 to curb the influx of immigrants. The deal brought tighter patrolling of the Aegean Sea against illegal immigration and regulated the resettlement of Syrian refugees from Turkey into Europe.
Still, a small number of migrants continue to risk their lives on a daily basis to reach Greece, while EU countries bicker over quotas on the number of migrants each supposedly should take and the burden of hosting refugees.
Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Oct. 12 that NATO elements in the Aegean Sea that are there to prevent the deadly journeys should be withdrawn because of the significant drop of migrants leaving the Aegean shores of Turkey for Greece.
Soylu said that daily crossings had reached 9,800 at times in the past, but a daily average of only 70 people tried to cross into Greece this year. He said that strict measures to prevent illegal migration forced human smugglers to shift their Europe routes to the "Italian and Spanish route."