The number of migrants held trying to reach Europe from Turkey using illegal routes has increased by 60 percent this year, according to data from the Coast Guard Command. A total of 14,470 migrants were held in the first seven months of this year, especially in the Aegean Sea, as well as in Turkey's southern Mediterranean Sea and the northern Black Sea, the data reveals. This figure was 9,152 for the same period in 2017.
The increase in numbers clearly reflects the impact that the ongoing conflict in Syria and other regional problems have on millions of the displaced and the poor. Europe remains the closest chance for many to have a shot at a better life, although European Union countries where far-right movements have gained momentum in mainstream politics increasingly tighten measures to stop the migrant flow.
According to the data, most migrants prefer to use illegal routes in the Aegean Sea to cross into Europe, as a number of Greek islands are located close to Turkish coasts. A total of 13,336 irregular migrants used the Aegean Sea to cross into Greece this year, the data reveals. Turkey's Aegean shores have long swarmed with migrants of all nationalities where dinghies would take them to islands a few miles off the coast. Rising numbers using this route shows migrants are not daunted despite bad conditions in refugee camps set up in Greece and long waiting lists for those seeking asylum in other European countries. Among the irregular migrants intercepted by Turkey so far this year, 1,640 were held in January, 1,363 in February, 1,849 in March, 2,534 in April, 3,398 in May, 1,925 in June, and 1761 in the first 29 days of July.
Coast Guard data shows 54 irregular migrants lost their lives this year, while the figure was 20 for the same period in 2017. Deaths are common in crossings as many migrants, despite paying thousands of dollars to smugglers, are forced to travel in overwhelmed rubber boats. Though boats are good for short journeys, they often operate way above their capacity, and more often than not, smugglers leave the steering to migrants inexperienced in navigating a crowded boat and forced to travel in bad weather, especially in winter. 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.
An exchange program that would return migrants that previously entered Europe to Turkey and settle Syrian refugees in European Union countries failed to curb the migrant flow, as the high rate of illegal immigrants intercepted by Turkey indicates. Turkey hosts some 3.5 million Syrians - more than any other country in the world. Only a small fraction of this Syrian population live in modern refugee camps set up on country's border with Syria. Others are left to live on their own, in rented or purchased houses and depend on Turkish charities and state aid for survival. Although the Turkish state covers all basic expenses of Syrian refugees and offers them access to health and education, some still yearn for a more settled life, near to their relatives who had made it to Europe previously.
Along with Syrians and Afghans, people from Asian and African countries make up the majority of migrants risking their lives to reach Europe.