Turkish coastguard stopped around 60 Afghan migrants on Sunday on the way to Greek island of Chios after they set sail from Turkey’s coastal town of Cesme.
Greece, a primary gateway to Europe for tens of thousands of people fleeing war in the Middle East and beyond, has been inundated with refugees and migrants after border shutdowns through the Balkans, stranding thousands in the country in the past ten days.
Reuters reported that after spotting the overloaded dinghy that took off from Cesme, coastguard boats were dispatched to the area to stop the migrants.
Coastguard Captain Murat Yilmazarslan said the migrants’ lives were at risk when they spotted the dinghy which had been organised by smugglers.
“They were stopped as they tried to sail to the Greek island of Chios from Cesme with a dinghy arranged by these organizers. We could see they were in a very difficult situation. 63 people were on board of the boat. These boats can take up to 40 people but they packed it over capacity and placed 63 people on it. If we didn’t reach out we could have experienced another tragic incident,” Yilmazarslan told Reuters.
Turkey has been the front lines of the migrants crisis for more than four years, as it shares a 900km border with Syria and has welcomed those fleeing the civil war.
Turkey is host to 2.5 million Syrians and has spent around $8.5 billion USD on feeding and housing them since the start of the civil war nearly five years ago. Another 200,000 Iraqi refugees also shelter there, and migrants from Iran, Afghanistan and Africa all use Turkey as a transit point to Europe.
“Because our country is facing a lot of problems. One of the problems is war in all of the places of our country. Because I came here and I want to go to Europe. Because we have no security in Afghanistan,” said Arman, an Afghan migrant who was stopped by Turkish coastguards.
Another migrant Asif said they would not have taken the perilous journey had their home country been a safer place.
“We have a lot of bad situations in Afghanistan and there was a lot of terrorist regime like Daesh, Taliban. They cut our heads and we should, we must go from here to Europe. We have a lot of bad situations. If we had a good situation we’d never come this way,” he said.
Turkey, which aspires to join the EU, struck a deal with the bloc in November to prevent migrants from travelling to Europe in return for 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in cash, a deal on visas and renewed talks on joining the 28-nation bloc. Since then, it has ramped up patrols at sea as well as raids to secluded beaches, rounding up hundreds of migrants.
Coastguards rescued some 13,104 migrants at sea this year in 281 separate incidents, according to officials.