Turkish coastguard exercise likely slowed migrant arrivals, briefly: IOM
A Turkish coastguard training operation appears to have dramatically decreased migrant arrivals to Greece, the International Organization for Migration said Friday, but stressed the large influx had resumed after just a few days.
More than 110,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Greece by sea this month, with more than 4,700 landing on the Greek islands on average each day, but last weekend the numbers suddenly dropped to 155 arrivals on Saturday and 336 on Sunday.
But IOM spokesman Joel Millman told reporters in Geneva that the weekend numbers appeared to be a blip, with arrivals soaring since then to as high as 5,140 on Wednesday.
"We're not prepared to say there has been a significant drop-off," he said.
Asked what caused the dramatic decline in arrivals over the two-day period, Millman said IOM staff on the ground both in Turkey and Greece believed a large-scale Turkish coastguard training operation "may have disrupted some of the traffic."
People may have decided "to wait a day or wait for this part of the coast not to have all that authority activity out in the water," he said.
His comments came as the European Union is urgently trying to secure Turkey's help to curb the flow of migrants into the bloc.
Turkey hosts more than two million Syrian refugees and is the main gateway for people trying to get to the EU, via the short sea crossing to the Greek islands.
The EU's 28 leaders will host Turkey for an extraordinary summit on Sunday to improve ties and help tackle the unrelenting migrant crisis.
Some 875,000 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, according to the UN refugee agency.
Most of them are fleeing conflict and violence in places like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and the vast majority of them have landed on the Greek islands before moving up through the continent towards northern Europe.
- Weather conditions to blame? -
IOM's suggestion that a Turkish coastguard operation had such a dramatic, albeit brief, impact on the number of migrants arriving in Europe could be seen as promising ahead of the upcoming summit.
But not everyone agrees a Turkish coastguard operation should be credited with the decline, with Greek authorities instead pointing to difficult weather conditions last weekend.
"This reduction is due to meteorological conditions. The weather has now improved, and the influx has resumed," Nikos Toskas, Greece's junior interior minister for citizen protection, told AFP.
Usually, migrant crossings of the Mediterranean drop significantly during the winter months when conditions at sea become increasingly harrowing.
The numbers of arrivals in Greece have dropped this month compared to the record 210,000 who landed on its shores in October, and Millman said arrivals would likely continue "to come down some because it is winter."
But he stressed that "tens of thousands every week are (still) trying to leave Turkey for Greece."
And despite tightening borders through Europe, IOM said nearly all of those arriving in Greece are still moving on, with 105,000 crossing into Macedonia this month alone.
The numbers of people able to cross are meanwhile expected to dwindle after Macedonia, which lies on the main migrant route to northern Europe, last week restricted passage to only Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans who are considered war refugees.
All other nationalities are deemed economic migrants and told to turn back.
© 2015 AFP