The number of “refugees and migrants” arriving by land and sea to the European Union passed the one million mark this year, according to the UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration.
The new figures, jointly released by UNHCR and IOM, listed the arrivals in six European countries since January 1, with the vast majority of people – 821,008 – landing in Greece.
Half of those arriving to Greece, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, Malta and Cyprus by December 21 were Syrians fleeing war, another 20 percent were Afghans, and seven percent were Iraqis.
Some 3,600 died or went missing, including 422 deaths at sea, the two agencies added on Tuesday.
“We know migration is inevitable, it’s necessary and it’s desirable,” IOM chief William Lacy Swing said in the statement.
“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 the IOM 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,” said an IOM spokesperson.
The record movement of people into Europe is a symptom of a record level of disruption globally, with numbers of refugees and internally displaced people passing 60 million, UNHCR said last week.
“I don’t understand why people are insisting that this is a European problem. This is a global issue,” Michael Moller, director of the UN office in Geneva, told a news conference on Tuesday.
The IOM’s Swing warned that anti-refugee sentiment could put lives at risk adding that suspicion was based on stereotypes, fear of national identity loss and a “post-9/11 security syndrome”.
“Every person entering from abroad is potentially a terrorist, exacerbated now with what happened in Paris,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We’re very disturbed at the widespread anti-migrant sentiment that can lead to xenophobia and risks to migrants.”
The November 13 attacks in Paris , which killed 130 people, triggered concerns that ISIL fighters could enter Europe using the cover of refugee flows and prompted calls for nations to tighten their borders.
“The concern I have about a lot of statements that are being made on the public record right now is that it puts migrant lives at risk. All of our countries have always been open to new influx of people and it’s always benefited us.”
Asked if he would consider reaching out to political leaders stoking anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe and the US, Swing said: “We may have to. We probably will have to.”