As 300,000 cross Mediterranean this year, UNHCR calls for admission pathways for refugees and speedy relocation out of Italy and Greece

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The number of refugees and migrants reaching European shores this year passed the 300,000 mark today, UNHCR figures show. This is considerably lower than the 520,000  registered sea arrivals during the first nine months of 2015, but higher than the 216,054 arrivals during the whole of 2014.

A closer look at the two main countries of arrival, Greece and Italy, reveals important differences. Arrivals in Italy this year follow the same pattern as last year, with 130,411 refugees and migrants entering in 2016, compared with 132,071 during the first nine months of last year. In both years, arrivals increased during May and peaked in July. However, more people arriving in Italy are staying there. As of today, asylum claims have more than doubled in Italy, in comparison to the same period last year. Over 158,000 people are currently accommodated in reception facilities in Italy.

In contrast, Greece saw a massive rise in the number of arrivals by sea last year, with 385,069 by the end of September. The surge began in August, with 107,843 arrivals, and peaked in October, with highest number of arrivals (211,663). This year, there has been a sharp drop from 67,415 arrivals during the month of January to just over 2,000 so far this month, bringing the total this year to 165,750, a 57% drop from the 385,069 arrivals registered in Greece during the first nine months of last year.  

The main nationalities arriving in Greece (Syria 48%, Afghanistan 25%, Iraq 15%, Pakistan 4% and Iran 3%) are also different from those reaching Italy (Nigeria 20%; Eritrea 12%; Gambia/ Guinea/Sudan/Ivory Coast 7% each). In the Mediterranean as a whole, five nationalities account for 68% of all arrivals (Syria 30%, Afghanistan 16%, Iraq 10%, Nigeria 7%, Eritrea 5%).

Despite the number of crossings this year (300,000) being 42 % lower than during the same period last year (520,000), the number of people reported dead or missing so far this year (3,211) is only 15 % lower than the total number of casualties for the whole of 2015 (3,771). At this rate, 2016 will be the deadliest year on record in the Mediterranean Sea.

This situation highlights the urgent need for States to increase pathways for admission of refugees, such as resettlement, private sponsorship, family reunification and student scholarship schemes, among others, so they do not have to resort to dangerous journeys and the use of smugglers. At the same time, the plan agreed by the European Union (EU) and Member States a year ago to relocate 160,000 asylum-seekers mainly from Greece and Italy to other European countries need to be fully implemented. So far, less than 5,000 asylum-seekers have been relocated from Greece (3,791) and Italy (1,156), which constitutes only 3% of the original target. We have been calling on EU Member States to increase pledges, including for unaccompanied and separated children, speed up the registration and transfers of candidates, and for more nationalities fleeing war and persecution to have access to the scheme.

Effective relocation is key to increasing solidarity and responsibility sharing in Europe, and ensuring the better management of movements, including helping to address irregular secondary movement and reliance on smuggler networks. This is particularly vital given the humanitarian situation in Greece, and the increasing number of people staying in Italy and applying for asylum.  


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