Refugees and migrants braving seas to flee to Europe in 2015 top one million (UN)

Refugees and migrants braving seas to flee to Europe in 2015 top one million (UN)

Refugees and migrants fleeing to Europe by sea this year have passed one million, according to figures just released by the UN refugee agency, many on perilous trips aboard inadequate vessels run by people smugglers, with at least 3,735 more believed drowned.

As of last night, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said 1,000,573 people had reached Europe across the Mediterranean, mainly to Greece and Italy, in 2015, half a million of them Syrians escaping war in their country, with Afghans accounting for 20 per cent and Iraqis for seven per cent.

The overall figure already topped one million last week, but that included 34,000 people reported by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to have crossed from Turkey into Bulgaria and Greece by land.

“Why is it that a million people have to enter Europe by smugglers boat?” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said. “The scale of these sea crossings, the fact that people continue to arrive daily in their thousands on the Aegean islands, and that nearly 4,000 lives have been lost in 2015, all beg that question.

“There are abundant regular, safe and legal means of managing this and they need serious looking at,” he added, stressing that UNHCR has urged both people and Governments to intensify efforts to facilitate legal entry routes to Europe.

Last week, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, appealed for compassion towards the new arrivals.

“As anti-foreigner sentiments escalate in some quarters, it is important to recognize the positive contributions that refugees and migrants make to the societies in which they live and also honour core European values: protecting lives, upholding human rights and promoting tolerance and diversity,” he said.

The number of people displaced by war and conflict is the highest seen in Western and Central Europe since the 1990s, when several conflicts broke out in the former Yugoslavia.
More than 800,000 refugees and migrants came via the Aegean Sea from Turkey into Greece, accounting for 80 per cent of the sea arrivals. At the same time, the number of those crossing from North Africa into Italy dropped slightly, from 170,000 in 2014 to around 150,000 in 2015.