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Greece saw sharp decline in migrant arrivals from Turkey in 2020

Migrants are on their way to a camp on the Turkish side of the Turkey-Greece border near the Pazarkule crossing gate in Edirne province on March 9, 2020. AFP

The number of migrants and refugees crossing the sea from Turkey to reach the Greek islands dropped from nearly 60,000 in 2019 to 9,687 in 2020, Deutsche Welle Turkish service reported on Thursday, citing data from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Migrants illegally entering the European Union from Turkey in total, including those arriving by land, numbered 15,533, DW said, with the Evros region, chosen by 5,846 of those migrants, being the busiest transit point in 2020.

Among the Greek islands, Lesbos saw the largest number of migrants, with 4,675 arriving on the island in 2020. It was followed by Samos and Chios, both in Aegean waters off the coast of Turkey, which received 1,472 and 1,139 migrants last year, respectively.

According to DW, 35.8 percent of the migrants who arrived in Europe from Turkey in 2020 were children and 23.4 percent were women. The majority of migrants arriving in Europe last year were Afghans, with 36 percent. They were followed by Syrian and Congolese refugees, with 23.3 and 10.3 percent, respectively.

More than a million people fleeing conflict reached Greek shores from Turkey in 2015-16. The EU signed an agreement with Turkey to stem migration and refugee flows to Greece in return for billions of euros in aid in March 2016.

Tensions between NATO allies Greece and Turkey, which disagree on a range of issues, rose a notch in March 2020, when thousands of refugees hosted by Turkey tried to storm the border with Greece and the European Union.

Turkey, home to 3.6 million Syrians, the world’s largest refugee population, had said it would open the frontier because it was alarmed by the prospect of another wave of refugees fleeing war in northwest Syria.

The Greek government transferred thousands of migrants to more secure facilities on the mainland, which activists have compared to prisons.

Although the flows have decreased significantly compared to 2019, some 17,000 people still live in camps on the Greek islands pending examination of their asylum applications, according to official data.

Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized conditions in overcrowded camps, which had over 42,000 residents as of early 2020, with the largest, Kara Tepe, on Lesbos, housing more than 7,000.

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