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A year on from Alan Kurdi's death, Mediterranean drowning rates soaring

Briefing notes

A year on from Alan Kurdi's death, Mediterranean drowning rates soaring

2 September 2016

A year ago today, the world was moved by the photograph of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi who drowned when his family, like hundreds of thousands of other refugees, was desperately trying to reach safety in Europe. UNHCR estimates that, since Alan’s death 4,176 people have died or gone missing on the Mediterranean - an average of 11 men, women and children perishing every single day over the last 12 months. 

During the first eight months of 2016, some 281,740 people have made the treacherous sea crossing to Europe. The number of refugees and migrants arriving in Greece has dropped dramatically from over 67,000 in January to 3,437 in August, following the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement and the closure of the so-called Balkan route. The number of arrivals to Italy, meanwhile, has remained more or less constant, with some 115,000 refugees and migrants landing in Italy as of the end of August, compared to 116,000 during the same period last year. 

The main change, however, has been the number of casualties. So far this year, one person has died for every 42 crossing from North Africa to Italy, compared to one in every 52 last year. This makes 2016 to date the deadliest year on record in the Central Mediterranean. The chances of dying on the Libya to Italy route are ten times higher than when crossing from Turkey to Greece. 

These numbers highlight 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.

The death of Alan Kurdi resulted in unprecedented expressions of sympathy and solidarity for refugees all over Europe, with many people volunteering to help and spontaneously giving food, water and clothes to refugees and even offering to take them into their homes. To document and highlight some of these individual acts of solidarity, UNHCR and photographer Aubrey Wade have developed a series of portraits of families hosting refugees in Austria, Germany and Sweden.

The arrival of over a million refugees and migrants to Europe last year has also given rise to hostility and tensions within the societies hosting them. Refugees and migrants have suffered racist and xenophobic attacks, prejudice and discrimination. The ongoing challenge for Europe is to make available the support and services that refugees need to successfully integrate so that they can contribute fully to society – bringing new skills, determination and a cultural richness, as they seek to re-establish their lives in their new homes.

In this effort, UNHCR strongly urges governments and their national partners to commit to the development and implementation of comprehensive national integration plans. The numerous contributions refugees bring to their new societies need to be recognized. UNHCR also calls for a clear commitment to the prevention of discrimination, the promotion of inclusion and the combatting of racism and xenophobia.

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Further info: and

Sudanese-American slam poet Emi Mahmoud travelled to the shores of Lesvos, Greece to recite a poem in honor of Alan Kurdi: 

Photos and videos of families hosting refugees in Europe are available for download via the UNHCR Refugees Media portal: 

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