Refugee, Migrant Numbers Rising Again on Greek Islands

FILE - AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos.

After a long period when the numbers had lessened, arrivals of refugees and migrants are going up again on Greek islands where they are sent from Turkey where human traffickers are still allowed to operate during a suspended swap deal with the European Union.

The numbers soared, said Aegean Boat Report, attributing it to deteriorating conditions in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the countries from where most of them go to Turkey as a jumping-off point to get to the EU but find themselves stuck in Greece.

The monitoring group which collects information about refugees arriving in Greece from Turkey, said on its Facebook page that the Turkish Coastguard had stopped 111 boats in the week between July 29-Aug. 4, according to The New Arab website.

Around 3,350 refugees were detained by the Coast Guard, the highest number of migrants picked up during a seven-day period since 2015, when the refugee crisis was at its height, the report also added.

Another 44 boats, carrying 1,326 refugees, managed to evade Turkish patrol boats and land on Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, where more than 15,000 are being kept in detention centers and camps, along with another 55,000 on the mainland.

While most make the perilous sea journey from Turkey, with scores drowning over the past four years when their rickety craft and overcrowded dinghies went under, more are also trying to also dangerous land border from Turkey along the swift Evros River, where a number have also drowned trying to get across.

In 2016, Turkey and the EU agreed to a deal under which refugees arriving in Greece would be returned to Turkey if they were deemed ineligible for asylum but only a relative handful have, with most seeking sanctuary in Greece after other European countries closed their borders to them and reneged on agreements to help take some of the overload.

While the deal did reduce the flow of migrants trying to claim asylum in Europe, refugee support groups have said it violates international law and that the detention centers and camps in Greece, especially on the island of Samos, aren’t fit for humans.

Conditions in Turkey have made refugees increasingly desperate to reach Greece and other EU countries. “The issue is complex but most of the rise in the number of refugees arriving in Greece is due to the political shift in Turkey. People are afraid of being sent back to Syria or Afghanistan,” a spokesperson for Aegean Boat Report told The New Arab.

Turkey currently hosts over 3,500,000 Syrians as well as a smaller number of refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries and the site said that Syrian refugees in Istanbul have been detained arbitrarily by police and deported to Syria’s war-torn Idlib province.

Hisham Mustafa, a refugee who had been deported to Syria was shot dead after he tried to cross back to Turkey from Syria to be with his wife and infant son. He had been sent back to Syria 25 days earlier, despite having “temporary protection status” given to Syrian refugees by the Turkish government.

Syrians in Istanbul now face an uncertain fate after the Istanbul municipality gave refugees registered in other Turkish provinces until Aug. 20 to leave the city, the report added.