More than 20,000 migrants have died in the Mediterranean since 2014. That is what the International Migration Organization (IOM) says in Geneva.
The most recent mass drowning dates from the beginning of February. A boat with at least 91 migrants on board went missing north of the Libyan city of Garabulli, says the UN organization. “The fact that we have reached this grim new milestone reinforces the IOM’s view that we need to expand the capacity of rescue services in the Mediterranean,” said Frank Laczko, IOM’s chief migration analyst, in a press release.
Since the beginning of February, there were again a dozen fatalities. Last week, three bodies washed up on a Tunisian beach.
Already 211 victims in 2020
Between January and now, around 14,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe via the western, central, and eastern routes. At least 211 were killed or missing. Last year there were around 100,000 migrants, and 1,885 of them died at sea.
The number of fatalities had decreased since 2016 when 5,000 were killed, but proportionally, the number of deaths has increased on the central route to Italy and the western route to Spain.
Aegean Sea to the Greek islands
Turkish President Erdogan has now ordered the coast guard to prevent refugees and other migrants from sailing to Greek islands. Due to the risks, the crossing of illegal migrants through the Aegean Sea is not permitted, according to the assignment to the coast guard.
However, according to observers, it is not a change in Erdogan’s policy that allows refugees to go to the border with Greece or Bulgaria to try and cross it, but according to Erdogan, the crossing over the waters between Turkey and the Greek islands is extremely dangerous and therefore unacceptable. According to the Turkish leader, the Greek coast guard puts boat refugees at risk.
It remains his policy that the journey of refugees who travel overland to the European Union is not hindered. In a conversation with German Chancellor Merkel, Erdogan said today that his country’s existing agreement with the EU on refugee issues no longer functions and needs to be revised.
In March 2016, the EU and Ankara agreed that Turkey would better guard its borders and keep people without valid papers away. According to the agreements, Turkey will also take back refused refugees in Greece if they have entered that country from Turkey. Europe then promised additional financial assistance and, among other things, offered visas for visa-free travel for Turks who want to go to the EU.
3.6 million refugees
Last year Erdogan complained that the deal with Europe was very disappointing. His country now has 3.6 million Syrian refugees. Because of the struggle in the Syrian province of Idlib, more are likely to come. Last Saturday, Turkish authorities reported that “the gates to Europe are opening” for refugees and migrants.
Since then, there have been clashes between Greek border guards and migrants who want to cross the Turkish-Greek border at Edirne or the Evros border river. Among other things, Greek agents use tear gas to repel the storm. Turkish agents also fired tear gas, and this caused a small fire on the Greek side of the border on Saturday.
It is unclear how many people actually went to the border and how many actually arrived in Greece. Turkey states more than 140,000, but Athens speaks of approximately 35,000 failed attempts to cross the border. In Greece, more than two hundred undocumented migrants were arrested in that area in one week.