Migrants into Europe at Record Highs, Now Nearing Half Million

Migrants in Europe
AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File

So far in 2015 more than 430,000 migrants, including refugees seeking asylum, have arrived in Europe across the Mediterranean Sea. This record number represents nearly double the number of migrants for the entire year 2014, when 219,000 migrants and refugees arrived in Europe by sea.

According to a report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the great majority of these migrants were registered in Greece, with 309,356 people, or about 70 percent of total 2015 arrivals. Italy had the second-highest number, with 121,139 people, or 28 percent of all migrants arriving in 2015.

Rather than slow down, the influx of migrants and refugees is actually picking up, with an estimated 50,000 migrants and refugees arriving to the Greek islands just since the beginning of September. According to reports, this increase stems from an attempt by migrants to make the crossing before inclement weather sets in, when the crossing becomes more perilous.

Nearly half of the migrants and refugees were Iraqi or Syrian nationals, most of them families with little children. The rest come chiefly from Afghanistan and Pakistan, with some others making the trip from sub-Saharan Africa.

While in Greece, some 70 percent of migrants and refugees came from Syria, in Italy the main countries of origin were Eritrea, followed by Nigeria and Somalia.

Recent reports suggest that some of those registering as Syrians may, in fact, be Iraqis, Libyans, Palestinians and Egyptians attempting to pass themselves off as Syrian, since their chances of being accepted for asylum are much higher as Syrians.

Amid the wave of refugees, many European politicians believe it is time to close the door to economic migrants.

“Refugees are from Syria,” said Zacharoula Tsirigoti, head of Greece’s border protection. “The others are immigrants.”

While Greece and Italy have been the first port of entry for the majority of immigrants and refugees, Germany has continued to carry the brunt of those seeking permanent residence.

This week Germany’s foreign minister warned that the influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants could be “the biggest challenge for the EU in its history.”

“If we are united in describing the situation as such, we should be united that such a challenge is not manageable for a single country,” said Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

The death toll among those attempting to cross the Mediterranean into Europe this year stands at 2,748 migrants, the majority of whom lost their lives in the first half of the year, after which Frontex stepped in with more patrols. The broadening of the EU’s Operation Triton enabled maritime forces to save more migrants lives in the Channel of Sicily.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome