The European Union remains committed to a key border deal with Turkey that has led to a large drop in migrant flows to Europe, EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Thursday.
‘The EU-Turkey statement works and continues to work: the arrivals through the Eastern Mediterranean have been drastically reduced since it came into force,’ Avramopoulos told Bulgarian Standart daily newspaper in an interview published Thursday.
‘The EU needs Turkey and Turkey needs the EU, if we want to truly manage this challenge together,’ he said, also insisting that ‘working with key third countries, including with the north and Horn of Africa, but also with our western Balkan neighbours, is essential.’
‘So far there have been around 146,000 arrivals by sea to Europe in 2017, compared to more than double last year,’ he said, ahead of meetings between the EU and Balkan state ministers in Sofia.
Around 8,300 migrants arrived by sea in October, compared to more than 31,000 in October 2016 and more than 221,000 in October 2015.
‘This shows an overall reduction of almost 75 percent in one year -- or more than 95 percent compared to the same period in 2015,’ Avramopoulos said.
Member states had pledged to take in 160,000 Syrian and other refugees from the overwhelmed Mediterranean frontline neighbours Greece and Italy but Avramopoulos said that only 30,000 migrants had been relocated by September, when the scheme ended.
Another 23,000 migrants from refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan have meanwhile been resettled under the Turkey deal so far with this process bound to continue, he added.
‘Now we must continue to deliver: to relocate those remaining eligible ones from Greece and Italy, and to resettle a further 50,000 people in need of protection over the next two years, not just from the Middle East but also from Africa,’ Avramopoulos said.
Bulgaria has also seen a sharp drop in migrant flows since the closure of the ‘Balkan route’ in early 2016 and the strengthening of border fences along its frontier with Turkey.
Numbers fell from 98,000 in 2015 to 40,000 in 2016 and just 5,900 since the beginning of 2017, the country's border police deputy chief Stoyan Ivanov said this week.