Migrant crossings into Greece are down 80 percent from last year, but “pressure remains at a high level,” the head of European Union border agency Frontex warned on Tuesday.
“The irregular migration pressure on the southern borders in the Mediterranean will remain at a very high level” this year, Fabrice Leggeri said, also expressing concern that EU countries are sending fewer unauthorized migrants home.
Leggeri said that Turkey is trying to stop people leaving for Greece, but criminal gangs are piling on pressure “because this is some kind of pull factor for irregular migrants if they know that criminal networks can help them.”
His comments came a day after 17 Turkish nationals landed on the shores of the small eastern Aegean island of Oinousses. The group of seven men, four women and six children included teachers and judicial officials who, according to sources, fear persecution following a botched coup in the summer of 2016.
More than 2,000 Turkish nationals have sought safe haven in Greece since the crackdown in the neighboring country that has seen more than 50,000 people jailed and at least 110,000 others fired.
In December, 32 Turks made the less than 10-kilometer crossing to Oinousses in hopes of being granted protection. Some are not so lucky. Last week, a 37-year-old woman and her two sons, aged 3 and 11, drowned while trying to cross the Evros River in northwestern Greece.