Over 110,000 migrants have crossed Med to Europe this year: IOM

Over 110,000 migrants have crossed Med to Europe this year: IOM

GENEVA – Agence France-Presse
Over 110,000 migrants have crossed Med to Europe this year: IOM

Migrants arrive on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey on a dinghy on September 10, 2015. AFP Photo

More than 110,000 migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean to Greece and Italy so far this year, and 413 have lost their lives trying, the International Organisation for Migration said Feb. 23.

As of the morning of Feb. 23, 102,547 people had arrived in Greece, while another 7,507 had arrived in Italy since the beginning of the year, IOM said.

Last year, the 100,000 mark was only topped during summer, IOM spokesman Itayi Viriri told reporters.

He said that out of the 413 people who had died trying to reach Europe, 321 had perished on the route to Greece.

“An estimated 35,000 migrants and refugees have reached the Greek islands so far in February alone,” he said, adding that nearly half of them were Syrians and a quarter were from Afghanistan, while another 17 percent were from Iraq.

Once they reach Greece, almost all attempt to move on, he said, adding that “we understand that an estimated 26,000 have already passed the Greek border with... Macedonia in February alone.”  

Not everyone is able to move on.

Thousands of migrants have been left stranded in Greece after Macedonia abruptly closed its border to Afghans, creating a fresh bottleneck as European countries scrambled to respond to the continent’s refugee crisis.

Some 4,000 people remained stranded on the frontier on Feb. 23 as even the crossing of Syrians and Iraqis, who are allowed to pass, slowed considerably, Greek police said.

UNHCR worried over border closures in Europe

The new head of the U.N. refugee agency said that border closures by European states alarmed by the migration crisis will cause “further chaos and confusion.”

“I am very worried about the news that we are getting about increasing closures of European borders along the Balkans route because that will create further chaos and confusion,” UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said during a visit to the Greek island of Lesbos on Feb. 23.

According to IOM, nearly 20,000 Afghans have arrived in Greece by sea so far this year, along with nearly 31,000 Syrians and more than 12,000 Iraqis.

U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Karin de Gruijl slammed the Macedonian move and “all of these measures aimed at keeping refugees out, [which] are causing numerous hardships for the people arriving.” 

“We are concerned about the profiling of refugees at the borders,” she told reporters, stressing that countries should be determining who should be allowed in not on the basis of nationality but based on “whether they are in need of international protection or not.”

The arrival last year of more than one million refugees and migrants on Europe’s shores, many fleeing war, poverty and persecution, has caused a chain reaction of border clampdowns, in a blow to the EU’s border-free Schengen zone.

UNHCR meanwhile published a survey Feb. 23 finding that a full 94 percent of Syrians and 71 percent of the Afghans who arrived in Greece last month said their main reason for making the treacherous journey was to flee conflict and violence.

A full 85 percent of the Syrians interviewed said they had been internally displaced inside Syria before fleeing the country, the survey found.