Migrants crossing from Turkey to Greece via land routes in sharp rise

Migrants crossing from Turkey to Greece via land routes in sharp rise

The number of refugees and migrants attempting to enter Europe from Turkey through Greece via land routes has increased since the beginning of the year. Xinhua reports in its article Spotlight: Migrants crossing from Turkey to Greece via land routes in sharp rise that according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 2,900 people have arrived in the eastern Greek province of Evros (Meric in Turkish). The river border separates Greece from Turkey since April, and most of the people were from Syria and Iraq. The number is half the estimated land arrivals recorded in all of 2017, by far surpassing the number who arrived by sea, the UNHCR spokesperson Charlie Yaxley said on April 27. Hundreds of people are currently being held in police detention facilities for processing by Greek authorities in Evros, the UNHCR said.

The agency spokesperson called on the Greek government to urgently expand reception capacity of camps to ease the strain. "Hundreds of people are at present being held in police detention facilities," he said noting that at least eight people have died since the start of the year attempting to cross the Evros River.

"The increase in new arrivals is placing strain on the only Reception and Identification Centre in Evros, which is located at Fylakio. The center is filled beyond its 240-person capacity, including 120 unaccompanied and separated children," Yaxley said.

Greece responded by sending some 120 extra police officers to the region, and has also called on the EU's border security agency Frontex to intervene.

People that reach camps at Greek islands via Aegean Sea face difficult circumstances as the camps are vastly overcrowded and they have to wait months-long for those applying asylum there.

The Aegean sea route between Turkey and Greece was the major way for migrants fleeing the Middle Eastern countries to get to Europe. However, the trend for migrants now turned to the land border between Turkey and Greece.

The sea passage was closed after the European Union and Turkey agreed to stop the flow two years ago.

Europe was alarmed over influx of Syrians in 2015 fleeing from the war-torn country to Europe through Turkish territory.

In March 2016, the EU and Ankara made a deal to turn Syrian refugees arriving in Greece back to Turkey if their claim for asylum was rejected, while Syrian asylum seekers in Turkey would be resettled in Europe on a one-for-one basis.

The agreement also aimed to speed up Turkey's accession into the block and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals within the Schengen area, on condition that Ankara meets requirements set by the EU. Turkey hosts more than 3.7 million migrants.

The number of people illegally crossing the Aegean Sea to Greece from Turkey has dropped dramatically since the agreement. But, the land border does not appear to fall under the deal.

Those who arrive via Evros river are given a three-month resident permit after registration, so that they can move around Greece, unlike those arrive in Greek islands through sea passage.

The number of illegal crossings through Evros River to European countries increased after the fall of the water level in the river, local daily Hudut newspaper in northeastern Edirne province reported on May 2.

In the past eight days, 336 undocumented migrants, including Syrians and Pakistanis that were trying to illegally reach Greece through the Evros were captured by the Turkish security force, while 516 others returned to Turkey after being deported by Greece authorities, daily Hudut reported.

Beyond the warming weather, other reason of the increasing illegal crossings to Europe is most likely about raising numbers of people coming westwards from Syria, Iran and Iraq to Turkey, according to an expert.

Along with Syrians, the number of people coming from Afghanistan to Turkey has also increased, said Metin Corabatir, president of the Ankara-based Research Center on Asylum and Migration.

Corabatir said that the number of Afghans who entered Turkey via Iran has reached 20,000 in the past three months.

Afghanistan has been ravaged by militant attacks this year, and the Afghan government has tightened security measures.