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UN Refugee Agency Says 326 Refugees Died Trying to Reach Greece

ATHENS – While the numbers of refugees and migrants trying to reach Greece from Turkey has continued to lessen during the waning COVID-19 pandemic, the danger hasn’t, with 326 dying in 2022 in the attempt.

That figure came from the United Nation’s refugee agency UNHCR which included missing who haven’t been accounted for and presumed dead, nearly three times as in 2021, said Info Migrants.

The number of casualties in the Eastern Mediterranean gateway to Greece rose nearly threefold from 115, according to the UNHCR statistics which revealed a grim toll as Greece has tried to keep out refugees and migrants and been accused of pushing them back, which it denied.

Sea and land arrivals to Greece also increased markedly with 12,756 people coming by sea, risking the perilous journey from Turkey, which allows human traffickers to keep sending them during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union.

And and some 6,000 people crossed the Evros river that divides Turkey from Greece in the north although Greece is extending a 16-foot high steel wall topped with razor wire to keep them out.

In 2021, some 9,200 arrivals were recorded on both routes combined, the UN agency said, coming from Turkey, where they had gone fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, primarily Syria and Afghanistan.

In mid-January, Greek authorities announced their border guards in 2022 had arrested at least 1,300 suspected smugglers along the Evros River, and had prevented some 260,000 migrants from crossing the river and reaching Greece and the European Union, the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) said.

Migration Minister Notis Mitarchis recently said the number of refuees and migrants trying to reach Greece, where they are no longer welcome and the borders are being closed to them, had fallen dramatically in the last two years.

Greece’s figures differed slightly from those of UNHCR, with Mitarachis saying that “After the explosion in the period 2015-2019, in 2021 we had the lowest flows of the decade, 8,745, and steadily low in 2022 too,” the Associated Press reported.

“The result is that instead of 92,000 asylum seekers living in 121 facilities, we have today 14,000 in 33 facilities,” hoping to gain the right to stay in Greece after the EU closed its borders to them.

He said the New Democracy government’s tough stance to deter refugees and migrants was working and was warranted because, “The migration issue doesn’t end. And it is at the same time a challenge and a need. Our country is implementing a strict but fair migration policy.”

He added that, “With an emphasis on migration with rules, criteria, agreements, in accordance with our needs. But we stand firmly against smuggling rings and illegal migration,” the report said.

The Missing Migrants Project by the UN migration agency IOM recorded 376 deaths and disappearances on the Eastern Mediterranean Route including Cyprus and Bulgaria for 2022, compared to the figure of 326 presented by UNHCR for the gateway to Greece, the site also said.

The eastern route was the main maritime route used to reach Europe in 2015, when nearly one million migrants and refugees attempted to come to Europe that way, mainly via the Balkans, said the International Organization for Migration (IOM.) Nearly half of all deaths and disappearances since 2014 were recorded in 2015 alone with 803 then, the year of the great influx beginning.

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