Migration flows from Turkey to Greece have intensified since the failed coup attempt in Ankara, according to official Greek data.
But the European Commission today (28 July) insisted that the numbers of refugees attempting the perilous crossing of the Aegean is continuing to drop.
The EU-Turkey refugee deal agreed in March has significantly reduced migration flows into Greece.
Under the terms of the deal, Turkey accepts Syrian and other refugees back from Greece in return for aid and accelerated talks on EU membership.
Since the failed 15 July coup attempt, increased numbers of new arrivals have been recorded from across the Aegean Sea in the last ten days, according to Greek coastguard sources.
“It seems that the routes have re-opened, so the chasing game has started again,” sources said.
The island of Lesvos is currently hosting 3,495 migrants and refugees, Chios 2,509, and Samos 1,030.
Reports in Athens suggest that it is the first time since the EU-Turkey migrant deal that the number of refugees has exceeded 7,000 in the North Aegean Sea alone.
A source told EurActiv.com that this trend could be because many refugees feel insecure with the situation in Turkey and want to flee the country.
The same source added that another possible scenario could be that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants to send a political message to Brussels, particularly since a recent dispute over the implementation of the EU-Turkey refugee deal.
“On the alert”
Christiana Kalogirou, regional governor of the North Aegean, admitted that “there is a difference in numbers”.
“It is not shocking but observable,” Kalogirou told EurActiv, adding that local people were justifiably concerned.
“I say this with self-restraint, but we need to be on the alert”, Kalogirou said.
The governor said that the immigration crisis had seriously affected tourism in the region, with the island of Lesvos seeing a 68% drop in visitors compared to 2015.
Referring to the latest arrival figures, Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud told EurActiv that the numbers seemed to confirm the continued trend of reduced arrivals due to the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal.
“The EU is continuing to fulfill its commitments under the EU-Turkey deal including when it comes to funding under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey,” the EU official stressed.
She added that Brussels expects the same from Turkish side and that “our cooperation on migration continues”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday (25 July) accused the EU of not paying its way under a deal to send Syrian refugees back across the Aegean.
But European Commission’s chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas reacted, saying that the EU is respecting its commitments and “suggestions to the contrary are not true”.
“The European Union has mobilised €3 billion to help refugees in Turkey. Out of this, three-quarters of a billion, about €740 million, has already been allocated,” Schinas stressed, adding that another €1.4 billion were about to be approved.
EurActiv looked through the official data of Greece’s Secretariat General of Information and Communication, which updates the new arrivals on an everyday basis.
The data showed that in the period 11-15 July – the date when the coup attempt took place – a total of 292 new arrivals landed in Greece.
From 17-23 July, 382 new arrivals were recorded, and in the last five days (24-28 July) that number reached 547.
A Greek government source told EurActiv that Athens had noticed a “marginal increase”.
“However, we don’t have a clear picture whether the internal situation in Turkey will actually affect the refugee deal with Brussels to any significant extent”, the Greek official said.
Analysts in Athens claim that the migrant deal will eventually not be affected, as Ankara’s government will increase the control at its border, fearing the “escape” of fugitives.