137,000 Refugees Crossed Mediterranean This Year

137,000 Refugees Crossed Mediterranean This Year137,000 Refugees Crossed Mediterranean This Year

A record 137,000 people made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe in the first half of 2015, most of them fleeing war, conflict and persecution, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

“Europe is living through a maritime refugee crisis of historic proportions,” the UN Refugee Agency warned in a report, adding that the number of people making the crossing swelled 83% in the first six months of 2015 compared to a year earlier, AFP reported.

The situation is expected to worsen as more clement summer weather allows people smugglers to dispatch more people on the dangerous crossing, often in rickety boats and at the mercy of human traffickers.

The soaring numbers arriving in Italy and Greece, before moving on to other northern European states in the hope of finding jobs, has sparked outcry and growing anti-foreigner rhetoric in many countries.

The UNHCR hailed Brussels’ decision to redistribute 40,000 Syrian and Eritrean asylum-seekers who have already arrived in Europe, but called for greater solidarity between countries to help both migrants and states carrying the heaviest load.

A third of those who have arrived by sea in Italy or Greece this year came from war-ravaged Syria, while people fleeing violence in Afghanistan and Eritrea each made up 12% of arrivals.

Other top countries of origin include conflict-wracked Somalia, Nigeria, Iraq and Sudan, the report said.

  More People Dying

This year has seen a sharp increase in the numbers of people dying as they try to cross the Mediterranean. So far 1,867 have been killed, 1,308 of them in April alone.

The unprecedented number of deaths spurred European leaders to significantly broaden search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, cutting fatalities to 68 in May and 12 in June.

Many of those fleeing to Europe first seek safety in increasingly overburdened neighboring countries such as Lebanon, where a quarter of inhabitants are now Syrian refugees, the report said.

Italy, which last year had 170,000 people land on its shores, more than three quarters of all maritime arrivals in Europe, saw that slump in the first half of 2015 to 67,500.

In Greece, however, arrivals have more than doubled to 68,000 so far this year compared to 43,500 in all of 2014, the report said.

Greece has fewer than 2,000 reception places and many refugees and migrants push on, aiming often for northern and Western Europe, particularly Sweden and Germany, which are seen as offering better protection and support.

But getting there can meanwhile require long and dangerous journeys, often at the hands of smugglers through the Balkans and onwards through Hungary.