Migrants arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey October 18, 2015.

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NATO is to send a multinational maritime force to counter trafficking in Aegean Sea

The Aegean is the key route for traffickers bringing migrants from Turkey to Greece

More than 70,000 have made the crossing so far this year, the IOM says

CNN  — 

NATO is deploying ships to the Aegean Sea to try to deter smugglers from trafficking migrants from Turkey to Greece, the organization’s secretary general announced Thursday.

The deployment follows a request from Turkey, Germany and Greece at a defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a news conference.

“The goal is to participate in the international efforts to stop the illegal trafficking and the illegal migration in the Aegean,” he said.

The Aegean, a stretch of the Mediterranean separating Turkey and Greece, is the main route used by traffickers bringing migrants into Europe.

More than 70,000 migrants have arrived in Greece from Turkey by sea since the start of the year, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Tuesday, adding that 319 had been killed making the same journey so far in 2016.

Force mobilized ‘without delay’

Stoltenberg told reporters that Standing Maritime Group 2, a multinational maritime reaction force under German command, would lead the operation in the Aegean in cooperation with Greek and Turkish coast guard units.

The force, which would be mobilized “without delay,” would focus on surveillance and gathering information to counter trafficking.

“It will be tasked to conduct reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance of illegal crossings in the Aegean Sea in cooperation with relevant authorities, and to establish a direct link with the European Union border agency Frontex,” he said.

According to Standing Maritime Group 2’s website, last week it trained in the eastern Mediterranean with the Turkish navy, supported by Turkish air force jets. The group was comprised at the time of German, Canadian and Turkish ships, it said.

The IOM reports that since January 1, a total of 70,365 migrants and refugees have arrived in Greece from Turkey by sea. This brings the total number of arrivals to the Greek islands since January 1, 2015 to 924,015, and the group expects the millionth migrant to arrive in Greece sometime next month.

So far this year, migrants were arriving in Europe by sea at an average rate of 2,000 per day – nearly 10 times the daily average of a year ago, it said in a statement.

NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – is a military alliance of 28 states in Europe and North America, based on the principle of collective defense, under which members are obliged to come to the defense of any member under attack.