Europe's refugee crisis: About to go from terrible to unprecedented
By Megan Specia
|By Megan Specia|
Refugees and migrants are heading to Europe at a rate three times greater than last year, according to a new report released by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and are set to shatter a record number of new arrivals reached in 2015.
By the end of 2015, more than 1 million people had made their way to the continent, mostly by crossing the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats, marking the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. But if the volume of new people arriving from war torn nations continues to grow, the refugee crisis is set to explode at a rate never before seen in Europe.
There have been 102,547 arrivals in the Greek islands since the beginning of 2016. In 2015, the number of arrivals did not reach that threshold until June, according to IOM.
The journey is also becoming increasingly more deadly as the numbers grow. More than 413 people have drowned in the Mediterranean during the first two months of 2016, with the eastern route between Turkey and Greece being the deadliest area for crossing.
The growing scale of the crisis has forced a knee-jerk reaction in many countries along the migrant route, which are now imposing arbitrary quotas in order to cope with the influx and closing their borders.
At Austria's southern border, officials have been closing the border if more than 80 people claim asylum in a day, or if more than 3,200 want to transit through to neighboring countries.
The restrictions are having a ripple effect further down the route. At the Greek-Macedonia border, Macedonian authorities have been allowing only Syrians and Iraqis to cross the border, and turning back Afghans and others to Greece.
The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR is especially concerned about the situation in the Balkan states, warning that Europe is "backing into an even greater refugee crisis by tightening border restrictions on the hundreds of thousands who have fled war and conflict The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR is especially concerned about the situation in the Balkan states, warning that Europe is "backing into an even greater refugee crisis by tightening border restrictions on the hundreds of thousands who have fled war and conflict in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries."
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, visited the Greek island of Lesbos on Tuesday and voiced serious concerns about the approach being taken in the Balkans.
"We are worried that these closings are happening and that there are no corresponding openings through relocation and resettlement," said Grandi. "That will create further chaos and confusion and it will increase the burden on Greece which is already shouldering a big responsibility managing these people.
On Tuesday along, at least 1,800 people made the dangerous crossing by rubber dinghy from Turkey to Lesbos. While on the island, Grandi also denounced "the tendency to classify people along the route by nationality," and singling out Syrians and Iraqis for preferential treatment while blocking Afghans, Somalis and Palestinians.
Grandi hopes a UNHCR conference to be held on March 30 will promote legal routes for Syrian refugees into Europe and further afield, which will reduce dependence on smuggler networks and make the crisis more manageable. He said both Europe and the world must commit to taking more Syrian refugees to ease the burden on the principal refugee-hosting countries of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan and those on the front lines of the migration crisis.
His ambitions are high.
"But we're not going to tell them, take a few hundreds or a few thousands as is the case now. We're going to tell them to take hundreds of thousands," said Grandi. "In fact our hope would be 10 per cent of the whole Syrian refugee population, this is almost half a million people."