More than one million refugees and migrants arrived in Europe by sea in 2015, while almost 4,000 died or went missing in perilous journeys, the U.N.’s refugee agency said this week.
“This is a staggering increase over just 12 months. At the end of 2014 we had 219,000 arrivals on the Mediterranean through Europe; that was also a record. This is almost five times that level. In addition, tragically we are also seeing an increase in the number of deaths, almost 4000 lives lost in 2015.
Proportionately that’s a smaller number than the 3500 lives that were lost in 2014. Nonetheless it’s equivalent to, for example, the passenger load of five-six-seven or more jumbo jets having crossed the Mediterranean in a year. It’s really a staggering total,” said UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards.
Most of the migrants who entered Europe in 2015 came across the Mediterranean or the Aegean Seas, and half were Syrians fleeing the war. Another 20 percent were Afghans, and 7 percent were Iraqis, the International Organization for Migration and the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said in a joint statement.
People smuggling operations probably accounted for the majority of journeys and likely earned at least $1 billion, the IOM said on Tuesday.
IOM estimates people smugglers in Europe have made $10 billion USD or more since 2000, maybe much more.
“I think that the staggering number of arrivals on the Mediterranean this year, the 4000 lives that have been lost. The fact that people are continuing to arrive, even today we had almost 4000 people arriving on the Aegean islands. This all begs the question: Why is it that a million of people have to arrive by smugglers boat? I think there has to be much more focus on safe and regular alternatives to this. And those alternatives do exist. You have visa programs, you have resettlement programs, you have other arrangements. And much more serious focus on those kind of alternatives is going to be needed,” Edwards said.
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.
“Sadly the underlying causes of movements, which are the conflicts we are seeing in this world, are not going away. We expect therefore more people to arrive in 2016. And that too means that there has to be much more work in finding sustainable solutions to the situation. At the moment we have had improvements in 2015 in the sense that there is better search and rescue on the Mediterranean. But the reception conditions, reception arrangements in Europe, and proper screening, proper facilities, proper distribution of people around Europe. Additional resettlement from the region and further funding for the situation of refugees in other parts of the world, such as surrounding Syria and elsewhere. Those measure still need a lot of work on them. So we have a great deal of work ahead of us to do on trying to bring about better international management to the situation,” Edwards said.
The war in Syria was only one among many causes, including Ebola and Boko Haram in West Africa, an earthquake in Nepal, conflicts in Libya, Yemen, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Afghanistan and Iraq.