EU’s deal with Turkey is endangering migrants

Refugee and migrant arrivals in Europe are expected to reach more than one million before the end of 2015, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

That would make this year’s arrivals nearly five times the total in 2014.

The organisation said that 990,671 migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East have entered Europe so far this year, via a combination of irregular land and sea routes.

It remains concerned, however, about the high numbers of sea fatalities. More than 800,000 refugees and migrants have made the crossing by sea from Turkey to Greece this year.

In December, 35 people drowned in the attempt – including at least a dozen minors – bringing the number of fatalities off the Greek and Turkish coasts to more than 700.

The last two months have proved particularly deadly. IOM’s missing migrants project reported 264 deaths off Greece from October 16. Which means that from then, right through to December 16, there were at least 420 drownings in the Aegean Sea – an average of seven a day for the last 60 days.

The total number of deaths of refugees and migrants making the crossing from Turkey to Greece in 2015 is now larger than the number of fatalities that occurred in the entire Mediterranean in 2013.

Despite the increasing danger with the onset of winter and colder temperatures, the organisation says, “daily arrivals to Greece’s Aegean islands continue to run in the thousands”.

On Tuesday nearly 4,300 migrants and refugees arrived on the Greek islands, with more than two thirds landing on Lesbos.

This is despite a deal being brokered between the EU and Turkey last month that saw Ankara receive €3 billion and a pledge for talks on its membership bid in exchange for holding back refugees heading for Europe.

Helena Porrelli, a Scot who has spent the last two months volunteering on Lesbos, criticised the deal for putting refugees’ lives at greater risk.

“It is absolutely shameful what the EU are doing,” she said. “It has forced people to take more dangerous routes.”

Porelli, who has worked with local and international aid organisations in Lesbos, said the aid provision there has been “a unique response to a crisis because it has blossomed out of nothing”.

Aid has previously been focused on a 15km strip of coast on Lesbos, but she said some organisations have already made the move to nearby Chios to reflect the different routes that refugees are taking following the EU/Turkey deal.

A lot of front-line work is still being undertaken by smaller groups, Porrelli said.

This includes monitoring the sea for boats in distress and providing lots of emergency supplies.

Porrelli said it is absolutely vital that safe and legal passages were established to prevent further deaths has refugees and migrants continue to take dangerous routes into Europe.

On Wednesday, a boat carrying 85 capsized in the Aegean Sea resulting in the deaths of a 9 month old baby and an 80 year old man, according to Médecins Sans Frontières.

Porrelli said the risks will not put off others from making the perilous journey.

“I’m absolutely certain that nothing will stop these people from coming.”

A version of this article was first published by The National (19/12/15).

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