EghtesadOnline: More Afghans than Syrians have migrated to the European Union so far this year, official data show, making them the largest group of foreign citizens illegally entering the bloc, with many relocating from Iran partly due to the economic problems caused by US sanctions.
While the EU fears a new wave of asylum-seekers from Syria following Turkey’s attack this week on the Kurdish-controlled northeastern region of the country, EU officials warned that the increasing number of Afghans posed a more immediate problem, especially in the Greek islands where many of them first arrive.
Since the beginning of the year, nearly 17,000 Afghans crossed the Aegean Sea to reach EU shores, the latest data from the EU border agency Frontex show.
Around half of them had been living in Iran before attempting the crossing through Turkey into the EU, a senior EU official told Reuters, adding that in many cases, Afghan migrants traveling to Europe were born in Iran, according to Financial Tribune.
They are leaving because “the US policy has significantly deteriorated the economic situation in Iran”, the official said.
Iran’s economy has been squeezed since US President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions last year to pressure Tehran to renegotiate a nuclear deal that the US has exited.
Facing hardship in neighboring Iran, Afghan workers are leaving to seek better ways to support families left behind in Afghanistan.
The situation in Afghanistan remains fraught with risk, as Taliban militants presently control more territory than at any time since they were ousted from power by US-led forces nearly two decades ago.
There are currently about two million Afghans in Iran, Afghan officials said. Nearly 800,000 left last year according to the International Organization for Migration.
In 2018, about 12,000 Afghans were recorded to have illegally crossed the EU borders, but that number could now double.
Most of them have landed on Greek islands, where authorities are struggling to provide shelter.
EU officials stressed that the situation remained manageable and was nowhere near as critical as in 2015, when more than one million migrants reached the bloc—25% from Afghanistan—causing the worst migration crisis Europe had seen since World War II.