The number of migrants and refugees arriving on the Greek islands in 2021 is the lowest since the start of the refugee crisis in 2015, according to the InfoMigrants website.
Based on the UNHCR data report on Thursday, 4,109 people crossed from Turkey to the Greek Islands in 2021, up from 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 eastern Aegean islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros, according to InfoMigrants.
The decrease in migrant arrivals is attributed to the much stricter patrols of the Hellenic Coast Guard at its maritime border with Turkey.
Greece has stepped up patrols in the Aegean Sea
Since 2019, Greece has stepped up patrols in the Aegean Sea to curb the continued influx of migrants from the Turkish coast.
In October 2019, 19 ships were added to the 40 boats and two ocean-going vessels used by the Hellenic Coast Guard to patrol the waters of the Aegean Sea with the aim of reducing the flow of migrants.
Specifically, five patrol boats, 10 army ships and four ocean-going vessels were added to the coast guard force.
In addition, 125 coast guard officers and 30 special forces of the Hellenic Army joined the 601 in the service of the central port authorities of the islands.
Greece accused of refoulements
Non-governmental organizations dealing with migrants and refugees have accused the Greek coast guard of illegal refoulements of refugees.
The Greek government denies these allegations, saying that it is often the coast guards who protect Greek and European borders in accordance with international law.
In addition, Greece has reported that boats full of migrants are escorted by Turkish ships until they arrive in Greek territorial waters.
“We are protecting our borders in accordance with what international and European law expect of us,” Greek Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarakis told InfoMigrants in an interview in November 2020.
“In fact, I think there is already a letter dated October 27 from Frontex saying that there is no allegation of refoulement from Greece,” Mitarakis added.
The Greek minister said the allegations are made by people who profit from the smuggling of migrants.
Due to strict controls and reports of suspected refoulements, smugglers and migrants have increasingly opted for new routes in an attempt to reach Europe.
According to InfoMigrants, the number of refugees and migrants staying on the Greek islands has declined from around 17,000 in December 2020 to around 3,500 in December 2021.
Migrants drowned while crossing from Turkey to Greek islands
There are cases where migrant boats from Turkey sink while crossing the Aegean Sea, causing people to die.
In December, more than 30 people drowned in the eastern Mediterranean, according to the Hellenic Coast Guard, as the number of shipwrecks increased.
Shipwrecks are often due to engine failures or leaks from the often unusable boats that smugglers sell to people, as well as harsh weather conditions, InfoMigrants reports.