ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish authorities have intercepted a boat carrying more than 200 Afghan migrants in the Aegean Sea to Europe, the Turkish coastguard and the International Organization for Migration said on Wednesday.
The interception near Turkey’s western shores came as hundreds of Afghans enter eastern Turkey from Iran, after violence in their own country escalated as the United States and its NATO allies withdrew and Taliban fighters seized the territory.
Afghans have been crossing Iran to Turkey for years, many of them en route to Europe, but the number of detentions this month has raised fears of a new influx.
Officials said last week they had detained 1,500 irregular migrants, mostly Afghans, near the Iranian border in the previous 10 days.
The migrants intercepted in the Aegean Sea are said to be on their way to Italy, the coast guard official said. Of the 231 migrants on the boat, 208 were Afghans and others were from Syria, Iran, Eritrea and Pakistan, the official added.
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The coast guard arrested two Turkish nationals who were running the boat and escorted migrants to an expulsion center in the town of Ayvacik, in western Turkey.
The government of President Tayyip Erdogan, which already hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees, wants to avoid a new wave of refugees, and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said two weeks ago that Turkey was closely monitoring any influx of refugees. Afghan migrants.
Turkey is building a wall along a 64 km (40 mile) stretch of the Iranian border in the eastern province of Van, where many migrants cross.
The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said there were more than 100,000 Afghan asylum seekers in Turkey last year.
(Reporting by Yesim Dikmen, written by Ezgi Erkoyun; edited by Dominic Evans and Timothy Heritage)
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