Turkey-EU migration at highest level since March 2020

Bloc recorded 799 arrivals in the last week of August amid concerns over refugee wave

FILE PHOTO: A migrant from Afghanistan and her daughter make their way at a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants next to the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis/File Photo
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The number of migrants entering the EU via Turkey has risen to its highest level since the pandemic erupted in Europe.

There were 799 arrivals from Turkey in the last week of August. It was the highest figure since the first week of March 2020, when 970 people arrived during border tensions between Turkey and Greece.

Travel restrictions were brought in soon afterwards to contain the coronavirus, leading to a sharp reduction in migrants crossing to Europe.

The latest increase comes amid concerns in Europe over a refugee crisis triggered by the chaos in Afghanistan.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signalled to Brussels that Turkey will not become Europe’s “refugee warehouse” after the Afghan crisis.

The Istanbul governor’s office has reported frequent round-ups of Afghan migrants who are placed in holding centres for deportation.

More than 500 Afghans were arrested in the space of three days in late August, the period when migration into the EU reached its highest level for 18 months.

An EU official confirmed the figures to The National after an internal report on migration was leaked to German media.

While some migrants enter the EU by crossing from Turkey to Greece, many are taking an alternative route to Italy, the report showed.

More than 5,000 people have arrived in Italy from Turkey this year, the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR said this week. This is similar to the number who have entered Greece.

At least 1,146 people have died on the sea route to Europe this year, a figure more than double that in the comparable period of 2020.

Greece has increased security at its border with Turkey, with a fence seen here near the Greek city of Alexandroupolis. Reuters

Europe is determined to prevent a repeat of the 2015 migration crisis when more than a million people surged across EU borders, many from Syria.

Turkey hosts millions of refugees under a deal struck with the EU in 2016 to prevent people entering the bloc and there have been calls to renew the pact.

Greece has bolstered its defences since the March 2020 crisis when Turkey opened its borders in what the EU described as an organised attack.

Athens last month unveiled a 40-kilometre border fence and surveillance system to catch potential asylum seekers fleeing Afghanistan.

Some migrants live in camps on Greek islands. Athens says Ankara has refused to co-operate on deportations since the outbreak of the pandemic.

EU countries want to head off a refugee wave by helping Afghanistan’s neighbours to assist people on their territory. The German and Italian foreign ministers have visited the region since the fall of Kabul.

Updated: September 07, 2021, 9:48 AM