May 3, 2015, Sunday
Tighter security at Bulgaria’s and Greece’s land borders with Turkey has allegedly forced more Europe-bound migrants to try “the world’s deadliest sea crossing” to arrive in Italy via the Mediterranean, according to the UN refugee agency.
Citing figures provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Euronews reported that while migrants arriving in Italy via the Mediterranean Sea quadrupled last year, those entering the two southeast European countries by crossing their land borders with Turkey considerably decreased.
Euronews quoted William Spindler, spokesman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as saying that there was a link between the two trends. According to Spindler, increased security on the borders with Bulgaria and Greece has ‘made migrants try more dangerous routes’.
Bulgaria finished a 30-km long barbed-wire fence at its border with Turkey in the autumn of last year and plans to extend it along the entire frontier line by the end of 2015, Interior Minister Rumyana Bachvarova has said.
Greece completed a project to beef up security at its border with Turkey in 2012.
“We have noticed that with the building of the wall between Bulgaria and Turkey and also increased security at the Greek-Turkey land border that the planned routes into Europe have become much more difficult for migrants and the figures of those crossing has gone down consequently,” according to Spindler.
“At the same time the people taking the sea route – that’s gone up.”
According to UNHCR data, 1,300 migrants found their death in the Mediterranean last month while trying to reach Italy.
Greece had 30,000 arrivals via its border with Turkey in 2012 but, after it improved security, numbers dropped to 1,122 the following year and 1,903 in 2014, Euronews said.
Migrants arriving in Bulgaria through the border with Turkey rose to 11,524 in 2013, but, after the fence was finished last year, entrants nearly halved to 6,023.
Euronews also quoted the UNHCR spokesman in Bulgaria as saying the EU’s poorest member state struggled to cope with the sharp increase in migrants arriving, especially in 2013.
“It’s a small fraction of the worldwide refugee numbers but in terms of what the country was used to it was a big increase,” he UNHCR spokesman in Bulgaria said.
According to Bulgarian border police data, the number of attempted illegal migrant crossings of the border with Turkey in the first quarter of 2015 has nearly trebled compared with the same period of 2014, reaching 956 people despite the deterring effect of the fence.