NATO Sends Warships to Aegean Sea to Stymie Smuggling, Help With Refugee Crisis

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By Alexander Smith

NATO is deploying three warships to the Aegean Sea to help stem Europe's spiraling migrant crisis, the alliance's chief said Thursday.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO's secretary general, said the three ships currently under German command had been ordered to move to the area "without delay" to stymie deadly smuggling works.

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The vessels — from Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 — will be deployed to a section of the Mediterranean called the Aegean Sea, a body of water separating Greece and Turkey that serves as one of the main arteries for refugees and migrants trying to enter Europe.

Related: Boat Sinks Off Greece, Killing 27 Migrants and Refugees Including 11 Kids

"This is not about stopping or pushing back refugee boats," Stoltenberg said following a meeting of NATO's decision-making body in Brussels. "NATO will contribute critical information and surveillance to help counter human trafficking and criminal networks."

He said the deployment was requested by Greece, Turkey and Germany to address "the greatest refugee and migrant crisis since the end of the Second World War."

Around 76,000 migrants and refugees arrived in Europe in the first six weeks of 2016 — an average of 2,000 per day and 10 times more than this time last year, the International Organization for Migration said Tuesday.

More than 400 people have died in the Mediterranean this year, around 320 of these between Greece and Turkey, according to the IOM.