UN agency sees ‘huge impact’ of EU-Turkey refugee deal

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The EU-Turkey deal has made a huge impact on the arrival of refugees via the Mediterranean to Greece, decreasing their numbers from nearly a million in 2015 to under 30,000 in 2017, according to a UN agency Wednesday.

This year the figure is about 7,000 so far.

The UN migration agency IOM spokesman Joel Millman told Anadolu Agency: "We believe the arrangement the EU has with Turkey has a huge impact after March 2016" on the number of refugees arriving in Greece from Turkey by sea.

About 36 percent of Mediterranean refugee arrivals into Europe came via the Aegean this year so far; In 2015 before the EU-Turkey deal, 80 percent of arrivals into Europe came via the Aegean from Turkey into Greece.

According to the UN, 19 refugees have died so far in the Aegean between Turkey and Greece this year.

After EU-Turkey deal, the refugee death toll in Aegean also dropped, from 805 in 2015 to 434 in 2016 and 61 in 2017 to 19 in 2018 so far.

Following the EU-Turkey deal, African refugees largely shifted to the Italy route, which is considered the deadliest in the Mediterranean.

The EU-Turkey deal aims to discourage irregular migration through the Aegean by taking stricter measures against human smugglers and improving the conditions of Syrian refugees in Turkey. However, refugees choose to travel longer and take more deadlier sea journey from Africa to Italy.

Arrivals to Spain

"The departures from almost everywhere to Europe by sea are down remarkable from last year. The only place that is not down is Spain," Millman said.

According to the IOM, Mediterranean refugee arrivals to Spain are on the rise, from 2,426 last year this time to 3,499 so far and deaths from 51 last year this time to 179 this year so far.

About 17,000 migrants entered Europe so far this year, compared with 37,000 at this point in 2017 and over 175,000 at this point in 2016, Millman said.

A total of 559 refugees died in the Mediterranean Sea so far this year compared with 918 at this time in 2017, a decline of about 40 percent, year-on-year, he said.

Comparing the decrease on the number of refugee arrivals into Europe, the percentage of decrease on death toll is lower, Millman said, adding: "The volumes are down but deaths are not down as quite much as the volume.

"Smugglers have to use worse boats and put more people in. The routes are same but l think smugglers are using more risky crafts. If a rubber boat can take 70 people safely, they put in 100 or 130 people. I think that is the main reason."

Noting that the weather in Mediterranean region is getting warmer, Millman said: "We are worried" of a possible new influx to Europe and rise on deaths in Mediterranean during summer.

"Summer has always been the worst. We had months thousand people dying. We are worried."

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