There was a significant rise in the number of people making unauthorised entries into Europe from Turkey last year, according to the European Union’s border agency.
More than 82,000 migrants attempted to enter the EU from the eastern Mediterranean route in 2019, driven by the situation in Syria, and instability in Afghanistan, the Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri said in Brussels.
In 2018, 55,900 unauthorised entries were detected from the same route, while three years ago, at the height of the migrant crisis, there were 885,386.
The EU agreed on a deal with Turkey in 2016 to give the country up to €6 billion in Syrian refugee aid money and other incentives to stop migrants leaving for Greece. However, despite a sharp drop of migrants making that journey during the year the deal was struck, the numbers have risen year on year since 2017.
This saw Greece struggling to deal with overcrowding on its eastern islands, leading to outbreaks of violence and protests.
On the Greek island of Lesbos, protests broke out Friday in front of the country’s largest refugee camp after an asylum seeker died of stab wounds.
Several dozen migrants set fire to trash bins and blocked traffic outside the camp before riot police were called in to disperse them.
On the 46% rise in numbers of people crossing from Turkey to Greece in 2019, Leggeri said: “This was mainly due to the situation in Syria, but also instability in Afghanistan, and changing policies towards Afghan nationals by Iranian and Pakistani authorities.”
He refused to blame the Turkish coastguard, saying it is “working well”’ to intercept people who leave.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that his country cannot shoulder the burden of hosting 3.6 million Syrian refugees alone and has in the past threatened to “open the gates’” for migrants to head for Europe. He is seeking more EU money and the Europeans appear likely to acquiesce.