The number of migrants and refugees arriving on the Greek islands in 2021 is the lowest level since the start of the 2015 refugee crisis, according to the InfoMigrants website.
Based on Thursday’s UNHCR data report, 4,109 people crossed from Turkey to the Greek Islands in 2021, as opposed to 9,714 in 2020 and just under 60,000 in 2019.
At the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, 856,723 people took this route and arrived on the islands of the Eastern Aegean Sea, Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros, according to InfoMigrants.
The decrease in migrant arrivals is attributed to much stricter patrols by the Hellenic Coast Guard on its sea border with Turkey.
Greece has stepped up Aegean patrols
Since 2019, Greece has stepped up patrols in the Aegean in order to curb the continuing inflow of migrants coming from the Turkish shores.
In October 2019, 19 vessels were added to the 40 boats and two open sea vessels used by the Hellenic Coast Guard to patrol waters in the Aegean with the aim of reducing migrant flows.
Specifically, five patrol boats, 10 army vessels and four open sea vessels were added to the coast guard force.
Also, 125 coast guard officers and 30 men of the Hellenic Army special forces were added to the 601 serving the central port authorities of the islands.
Greece accused of pushbacks
Non government organizations that deal with migrants and refugees have accused Greece’s cost guard of illegal pushbacks of refugees.
The Greek government denies these allegations saying that it is often that the coast guard protects Greek and European borders in line with international law.
Furthermore, Greece has reported that boatloads of migrants are escorted by Turkish ships until they arrive to Greek territorial waters.
“We are protecting our borders in line with what international law and European law expects us to do,” Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis told InfoMigrants in a November 2020 interview.
“Actually I think there is already a letter dated October 27 from Frontex saying there is no allegation of pushbacks from Greece,” Mitarakis added.
The Greek minister said that these allegations are made by people who are making profits from migrant-smuggling.
As a result of the strict controls and reports of alleged pushbacks, smugglers and migrants have increasingly opted for new routes to try to reach Europe.
According to InfoMigrants, the number of refugees and migrants staying on the Greek islands has decreased, dropping from around 17,000 in December 2020 to some 3,500 in December 2021.
Migrants drowned while crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands
There are instances that boatloads of migrants coming from Turkey sink while crossing the Aegean, leading people to their death.
In December, over 30 people drowned in the Eastern Mediterranean, according to the Hellenic Coast Guard, as the number of shipwrecks has been rising.
The shipwrecks are often due to engine failures or leaks on the often unseaworthy boats that smugglers sell to people, as well as harsh weather conditions, InfoMigrants reports.