Sea arrivals to Greece averaged 12,800 per week in February, a reduction from 13,500 in January and 22,500 in December. Daily numbers fluctuated from a few to around 4,800. Bad weather and sea conditions are considered the main reasons for the reduction.
Increasing numbers of migrants are being prevented from crossing borders along the route and are stranded in the transit countries – a result of political measures taken by destination countries in agreement with transit countries, in order to stem migrant flow. The main impact is in Greece, where capacities to host migrants are already overstretched. All Balkan transit countries currently experience a ‘reverse flow’ with migrants being returned across borders. Humanitarian needs are varied as migrants are not only in transit, but also stuck along the route. + Covert smuggling is expected to increase as stranded migrants seek alternative ways to reach the destination countries following increased restrictions on transit via the official Balkan route.
Stemming the influx of migrants to Greece and tackling the smuggling issue are on the agenda of the 6 March Migration summit between Turkey and the EU. The last weeks of February saw an increase in arrivals on some Greek islands not previously serving as major arrival points, indicating that smugglers are adapting their strategies following clampdown measures by the Turkish authorities. It is not clear whether these measures have significantly reduced the number of migrants crossing the Aegean sea or put migrants waiting to cross at greater risk.
A direct train service from FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) to Austria is planned to be operational in the next few days. Migrants would only be registered once throughout the journey, when boarding the train at the GreekFYROM border. This uninterrupted transport could significantly improve the situation of those on board; however, there are concerns regarding the adequacy of services en route, based on current experiences with regional train transit.