By Ramazan Ercan
IZMIR, Turkey (AA)- The number of refugees trying to reach Greek islands from Turkey via the Aegean Sea has continued to drop this month, according to coast guard data compiled by Anadolu Agency.
The drop in numbers follows a European Union-Turkey deal this March which aimed to break human-smuggling gangs which have been trafficking refugees and migrants across the Aegean to nearby Greek islands.
The Turkish Coast Guard Command intercepted 400 illegal migrants on the Aegean in the first half of May, versus 800 in the first half of April, a drop of 50 percent.
April’s numbers had already fallen 80 percent from March.
Of 24,500 refugees intercepted so far this year, there were 5,506 in January, 8,747 in February, 8,530 in March, and 1,717 in April.
Also according to Turkish Coast Guard figures officials, no casualties took place in Turkish waters this April.
The desperate journeys made by migrants and refugees hit their peak last year after some European countries announced they would take in thousands of people.
According to Turkish Coast Guard figures, in 2015 a total of 279 migrants lost their lives in the Aegean, mainly through using unsafe vessels such as plastic boats. January 2015 was the only other month in which no casualties occurred in the Aegean. However, from then until this April a total of 452 people died in dangerous journeys.
Over the past year, thousands of people have made short-but-perilous attempts to cross the Aegean in a bid to reach Greece, before going on to northern and western Europe.
The EU-Turkey agreement reached on March 20 allows for the return of “irregular migrants” to Turkey from Greece in exchange for Syrian refugees to be relocated within the EU.
Anadolu Agency correspondent Ahmet Sait Akcay contributed to this story from Ankara.