By Fatih Erel
The number of refugees crossing the Aegean Sea to Greece from Turkey has fallen from a peak of more than 6,800 to around 400-a-day since the EU-Turkey deal on refugees came into effect, the Turkish deputy foreign minister said Wednesday.
The agreement, which came into force on March 20, provides for the return of “irregular migrants” from Greece to Turkey and is aimed at destroying the smuggling rings that traffic refugees across the Aegean to Greek islands, resulting in hundreds of deaths.
“Our main objective is to prevent loss of lives in the Aegean, crush the migrant smuggling networks and replace irregular migration with regular migration,” Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru told a high-level meeting in Geneva on resettling refugees.
“While there were 6,827 irregular crossings on daily average in October, this figure decreased to 2,174 in January, 1,967 in February and 900 in March.
“Since our deal has become operational on March 20, we have witnessed a dramatic decline in numbers… On average 400 migrants reached the islands over the last 10 days.”
Koru, whose country hosts around 2.7 million Syrian refugees, said Turkey had spent around $10 billion on providing a haven for refugees.
“The international community has to share the responsibility and the burden,” he told the meeting of representatives from around 92 countries. “There is no room for complacency. Any failure at burden-sharing would result in unbearable costs for all the members of the international community.”
Last year, 1,140 Syrians were resettled from Turkey to a third country through the UN’s refugee agency, Koru said. So far this year, 206 have been resettled in other states.
“Hence, resettlement scores are very poor compared to the Syrian population of over 2.7 million,” he added.
Under a one-for-one formula agreed with EU leaders, for every migrant returned to Turkey, another will be resettled within the EU from Turkey’s refugee population. The arrangement will begin on April 4.
“If it is effectively implemented by both sides, I am confident that we will yield concrete results in the very short term and be able to stop the irregular crossings completely,” Koru said. “This exercise will be the most stunning example of burden- and responsibility-sharing, which Turkey has been advocating since the eruption of the Syrian crisis in 2011.”
Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of U.S. company Chobani Yogurt, has hired hundreds of refugees to work for his firm. “Hiring refugees is the best thing l have done,” he told the conference.