Türkiye rescues 184,175 migrants from dangerous seas in 13 years
Economic crises and conflicts drove more people abroad as irregular immigrants and European countries remained attractive for migrants from African and Asian countries in the past decade. The sea route is naturally the main choice of migrants, but it is also the most dangerous as the Mediterranean waters are not safe all the time for boats, let alone dinghies, a cheap way of transportation for most migrants. Tricked by migrant smugglers to take the short route from Türkiye to Greece, migrants barely make it to the Greek waters before their boats are either caught or in danger of sinking amid bad weather.
The drama of the migrants drew global attention after the death of Alan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian migrant who was traveling with his family when their boat sank in 2015. Kurdi’s tiny corpse, which washed ashore on the Turkish coast, was an image that highlighted the deadly ordeal migrants had to endure. However, migrant deaths have not dramatically diminished since then. Türkiye believes some of the eight bodies that washed ashore on the country’s southern coast in an area between the Antalya and Muğla provinces between Jan. 17 and Jan. 22 are likely irregular migrants. A boat carrying some 90 migrants from an area between Lebanon and Syria to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus sank on Dec. 11, 2023. The bodies likely drifted to the Turkish waters after this incident, while authorities suspect they were likely Syrian nationals.
Many boatloads of migrants attempt to make the dangerous sea crossing to reach the Greek islands from the Turkish coast. Others attempt to enter Greece by crossing a river that runs along the land border between the two countries.
While many make it to the EU, many others perish at sea or are pushed back by Greece into Turkish waters in violation of international law. Athens’ illegal practice has been documented by Türkiye, international human rights groups and charities on many occasions, as well as in accounts of migrants intercepted in the Aegean or land borders. Greece has made a “recurring practice” of alleged secret, illegal and often brutal deportations back to Türkiye, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said in a report released on Oct. 31, citing 50 testimonies over the past two years from migrants. Athens has strongly denied such pushbacks, arguing that its coast guard has saved hundreds of thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Africa crossing in small boats from Türkiye.
Greece says it needs to protect its borders, which are also those of the EU, from mass illegal immigration. It has stepped up patrols in the Aegean Sea with the help of the European Border Surveillance Agency, Frontex.
The coast guard said the highest number of pushbacks last year – some 11,715 migrants – occurred off the coast of western Izmir province, which has a meandering coast stretching over 460 kilometers (286 miles) and close to the Greek islands. Izmir was followed by other western provinces, Muğla, Çanakkale, Aydın and Balıkesir.
In the first nine months of 2023, migrant arrivals in Greece spiked to over 29,700 people, compared to 11,000 in the same period in 2022, according to figures from the Greek government.
The latest figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) too revealed more than 2,750 people went missing and are presumed dead in the central Mediterranean this year, higher than in any of the last five years.
As part of recently revived talks to mend long-tense bilateral ties, Greece and Türkiye are floating a renewal of a 2016 EU deal restricting migration, as well.
Türkiye itself copes with the irregular migration phenomenon as crises across the world once again put it at the forefront of migrant influx as a gateway to Europe.
The country, which already hosts 4 million refugees, more than any other country in the world, is taking new measures at its borders to prevent a fresh influx of migrants, balancing a humanitarian policy and the need to stop thousands from risking their lives.