Number of refugees reaching Europe plunged in 2016

Refugee numbers plunged by two-thirds, while deaths during Mediterranean journey rose sharply, migration agencies say.

refugees Greece Turkey
The decrease in refugees reaching Europe was largely owing to tighter border controls [AP]

The number of refugees who arrived on Europe’s shores plunged by nearly two-thirds last year, but the number of those who died on the often perilous journey in the Mediterranean Sea rose sharply, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the EU border agency Frontex has said.

About 364,000 people seeking work or refugee protection crossed the sea between January and December, compared to more than one million in 2015, Frontex said in a statement on Friday.

A sharp drop in arrivals to Greece outweighed record migration to Italy, it said.

The decrease was largely owing to a Turkey-EU deal whereby Ankara took back migrants who crossed by sea to the Greek islands and the EU resettled Syrian refugees living in Turkey.

“The drop was also influenced by tighter border controls in the western Balkans, Frontex added.

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At the same time, the number of people who died as they tried to reach Europe rose by 34 percent last year from 2015, the UN-affiliated IOM said in Geneva.

Many shipwrecks occurred on the route between Libya and the Italian island of Sicily.

The trend shows that the central Mediterranean route linking the Sahara region to Southern Europe still operates at full capacity despite European efforts to stem the flow, IOM analysts said.

The deaths in the Mediterranean pushed the 2016 global death tally for migrants to 7,495.

The latest reports of 300 more deaths in the Mediterranean are currently being vetted by the IOM.

Last year, IOM also recorded about 1,100 fatalities in North Africa, 200 around the Horn of Africa, as well as 400 dead migrants on the route from Mexico to the United States.

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Austria’s defence minister has said in a new set of proposals that the European Union should curb immigration and foil people smugglers by banning refugee applications on its territory and setting up asylum application centres outside the bloc.

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“This would enable EU countries to decide themselves who may enter Europe, rather than smuggling organisations,” Hans Peter Doskozil said in a document obtained by by the DPA news agency on Friday.

The document indirectly advocates an EU-wide cap for asylum seekers, by stating that “every country has capacity limits, beyond which integration is impossible”.

People who are not accepted as refugees should be sent home, Doskozil said. If their home countries do not take them back, they should be be transferred to “protection zones”, he proposed, without specifying where or how they should be set up.

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A coordinated EU refugee policy has so far failed to materialise as some of the bloc’s members, especially in the east, have refused to take in significant numbers of refugees. In addition, EU countries have not found a way to quickly send back economic migrants.

Despite the drop in arrivals last year, an estimated 123,000 migrants still managed to travel the so-called Balkan route from Greece to western Europe, according to Frontex, despite steps by Austria and Balkan countries to stop the flow of people.

Doskozil also warned that a breakdown of the EU-Turkey deal could result in up to one million migrants launching journeys from Turkey to Europe.

Source: News Agencies