- The number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe fell by more than one-third last month due to poor weather and a Turkish crackdown on traffickers, the U.N. said Dec. 1.
In November, some 140,000 migrants and refugees made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe, marking a 36.5 percent drop from October, when a record 220,535 arrived on Europe's shores, the U.N.'s refugee agency said.
“It's the first [month] this year that actually shows a decrease compared to the previous one” UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told reporters in Geneva.
“It's a big drop” he said, but stressed that “the figures are still very high.” He said the slowdown last month was linked to “fluctuating climate conditions in the Aegean [Sea] but also a crackdown on smuggling by Turkish authorities.”
His comments came after Turkish security forces captured some 1,300 migrants off the coast of northwestern Çanakkale province on Nov. 29.
The Turkish coast guard made the detentions after carrying out simultaneous operations at eight different locations. Those held included Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians.
The operations were conducted by around 250 gendarmerie officers on Nov. 29.
The number of migrants and human traffickers captured by Turkish security forces increased as the European Union vowed to provide three billion euros in cash as well as political concessions to Ankara in return for its cooperation in tackling Europe's worst migrant crisis since World War II.
Turkey hosts more than two million refugees from the Syrian conflict and is the main launching point for migrants coming to Europe, via Greece.
More than 886,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, according to the latest U.N. figures.
Most of them are fleeing conflict and violence in places like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and the vast majority of them – some 738,000 - have landed on Greece's islands before moving up through the continent towards northern Europe.
A total of 3,515 people have meanwhile perished in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe, most of them along the longer and more dangerous route from Libya to Italy.
The U.N.'s children's agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) meanwhile warned Dec. 1 that women and children constitute an increasing proportion of the migrants and refugees on the move and currently account for more than half, up from just 27 percent a few months ago.
This has had tragic consequences, since children are more vulnerable along the journey.
Along the eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to Greece, where more families are traveling, children account for at least 30 percent of the 589 deaths so far this year, the IOM and UNICEF said. In October alone, at least 90 children died in the eastern Mediterranean.