Monday 19 February 2018

Number of refugees into EU this year passes one million

A migrant holds her child while disembarking from a Coast Guard ship in the Sicilian harbour of Messina, Italy.
A migrant holds her child while disembarking from a Coast Guard ship in the Sicilian harbour of Messina, Italy.

Aron Treme in New York

The number of refugees and migrants arriving by land and sea in the EU has passed one million this year, while a further 3,600 died or went missing, the UN refugee agency and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said yesterday.

Half of those arriving were Syrians fleeing the war, another 20pc were Afghans, and 7pc were Iraqis, the two agencies said in a joint statement.

Out of a total of 1,005,504 arrivals to Greece, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, Malta and Cyprus by December 21, the vast majority - 816,752 - arrived by sea in Greece, IOM said.

"We know migration is inevitable, it's necessary and it's desirable," IOM chief William Lacy Swing said in the statement.

"I don't understand why people are insisting that this is a European problem. This is a global issue.

"But it's not enough to count the number of those arriving - or the nearly 4,000 this year reported missing or drowned. We must also act. Migration must be legal, safe and secure for all - both for the migrants themselves and the countries that will become their new home."

The UN refugee agency UNHCR is planning for arrivals to continue at a similar rate in 2016, but IOM spokesman Joel Millman said it was impossible to forecast future numbers.

"So much is in the balance, the resolution of the Syrian war, and the disposition of the European border protection moves that are being contemplated," he said.

"We never thought it would reach this level. We just hope people are treated with dignity."

The record movement of people into Europe is a symptom of a record level of disruption around the globe, with numbers of refugees and internally displaced people far surpassing 60 million, UNHCR said last week.

Under pressure from European partners to better manage a huge influx of migrants, Greece admitted delays in its response but said EU promises had also not been carried out in full.

The UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres called last week for a "massive resettlement" of Syrian and other refugees within Europe, to distribute many hundreds of thousands of people before the continent's asylum system crumbles.

He called for European countries to recognise the positive contributions made by refugees and migrants and to honour what he said were "core European values: protecting lives, upholding human rights and promoting tolerance and diversity".

Most of the people entered Europe via Greece, which took in more than 820,000 people this year, nearly all of them crossing from Turkey by boat across the Aegean Sea. Another 150,000 came into Italy across the Mediterranean from north Africa while smaller numbers crossed from Turkey by land into neighbouring Greece and Bulgaria. Much smaller numbers arrived by boat to other Mediterranean countries.

Others - not accounted for in the IOM tally - crossed into Europe across other borders, such as a route from Russia to Norway where a few thousand people have crossed by bicycle.

Of the deaths, 2,889 were people traveling from north Africa to Italy, the IOM said, 706 drowned trying to cross the Aegean to Greece and 72 died trying to reach Spain.

The war in Syria was particularly key in driving the numbers of people moving into Europe to levels not seen in half a century.

European governments have struggled to agree on a response, arguing about how welcoming they should be and how best to manage the flows.

Irish Independent

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