Athens.- The numbers of migrants landing in Greece from Turkey is starting to creep up again, showing efforts to close off the route are coming under strain, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Friday.
Around 150 people a day had arrived over the last three days, still way off the numbers seen a month ago, the organization added, but showing an increase since an EU deal with Turkey deal to stem the flow.
“The arrivals in Greece which were down to literally zero some days this month, are beginning to creep back up,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman told a Geneva news briefing.
“It could be the weather, it could be any number of things, it could be that smugglers are getting more creative.”
Europe signed an agreement with Turkey last month to close off the main route into Europe for more than a million people, most fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
NATO sent ships into Greek and Turkish waters in the Aegean in March, though Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Friday that Turkish demands were hampering the mission.
“It could be that there is just still a lot of demand in Turkey … people have already spent months to get to Turkey and where there is a will and where there is means, people will try to satisfy them,” Millman told the briefing.
“It still shows that hermetic sealing that seemed to be happening a month ago isn’t anymore.”
There were also signs of increased numbers of people from sub-Saharan Africa taking the perilous route across the Mediterranean to Europe, he said.
More than 3 million people have been displaced in the Lake Chad basin – in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad – by violence by the militant group Boko Haram, he added.
An estimated 180,245 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea so far this year, the bulk of 154,227 to Greece, while at least 1,232 have died, the IOM said.
Victims include an estimated 500 people who drowned in a shipwreck off Libya this week, mainly from the Horn of Africa, which 41 people survived.
According to the latest official figures, there are 53,817 migrants throughout Greece: 29,298 are at camps and centers in northern Greece, while in Attica there are 14,359, of which 3,294 are at the port of Piraeus.
Authorities estimate that it will take more than a month to process all the asylum applications submitted. This means that thousands will remain in camps and centers for the foreseeable future, sparking growing concerns of a rift among refugees along ethnic lines – underscored by the recent clashes between Syrians and Afghans at Piraeus. The Afghans have repeatedly protested what they say is preferential treatment given to Syrians.
MERKEL IN TURKEY
German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in a Turkish border province on Saturday to meet Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as she works to ease tensions in the deal to tackle the migrant crisis.
Prior to its enforcement almost three weeks ago, Merkel lobbied European leaders to back the deal to return thousands of migrants from the Greek islands to Turkey. But as questions over its effectiveness, long-term viability and legality mount, so does the pressure on the German leader.
Merkel, EU Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans were due to discuss the migration crisis with Davutoglu after a visit to a refugee camp in the town of Nizip, amid a ramped up security presence.
Uniformed and plain-clothed police officers patrolled Gaziantep city, capital of the province that borders on Islamic State-controlled Syrian territory and has been hit repeatedly in recent weeks by rocket fire from the other side of the frontier.
Live footage showed Davutoglu and local officials, as well as children holding flowers, greeting Merkel in the airport. Separately, footage showed Tusk disembarking from his official plane and being greeted by dignitaries.
A poster depicting Merkel’s face and the words “Solidarity with the migrants. We are proud of our Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu,” in German was put up in the town. Another welcomed Davutoglu to Gaziantep.
At home Merkel faces criticism for allowing a German comedian to be prosecuted for insulting Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
The issue is likely to come up in the meetings, but a senior Turkish government official said the main focus of the visit by Merkel, Tusk and Timmermans would be on relations with the EU and implementing the migrant deal, including how to spend a promised 3 billion euros ($3.37 billion) in funding.
On Wednesday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the European Union needed to be more pragmatic in releasing the cash meant to help manage the migrant crisis, saying there were problems with the delivery of the money.
Another side of the bargain, used to sell the migrant deal to the Turkish public, was Turks winning quicker visa-free travel to Europe, a pledge that now could go unfulfilled, at least by the June deadline he had wanted.
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Human Rights Watch has urged the leaders of the European Union to get a correct understanding of the desperate situation of refugees at the Turkish-Syrian border and rethink a controversial deal they reached with Turkey for deportation of the asylum seekers.
Officials from the New York-based advocacy group said on Saturday that EU leaders have in fact neglected thousands of refugees trying to escape war in Syria and enter Turkey while they are busy ensuring the implementation of the terms of a deal they reached with Ankara on March 20.
Judith Sunderland, the acting deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, slammed plans by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and top European Union officials for traveling close to Turkey’s border with Syria, saying the German leader and colleagues will not be able to grasp the real situation of refugees as they are planned to visit a “sanitized” refugee camp.
“Instead of touring a sanitized refugee camp, EU leaders should look over the top of Turkey’s new border wall to see the tens of thousands of war-weary Syrian refugees blocked on the other side,” said Sunderland, urging Merkel and EU officials to “go to the (Turkish) detention center for people who were abusively deported from Greece.”
“That should make them rethink the flawed EU-Turkey deal,” said the rights campaigner, echoing a similar criticism by many organizations and governments on the deal which allows for the deportation to Turkey of refugees who do not qualify for asylum in Greece.