03 July 2015

In a report published this week, UNHCR announced that 137,000 people reached Europe’s shores in the first six months of the year. According to the UN Agency’s report, the majority of those taking the Mediterranean route are refugees who are fleeing war, conflict or persecution at home, as well as worsening conditions in many refugee-hosting countries. The top five nationalities of people arriving are Syrians, Afghanis, Eritreans, Somalis and Nigerians.

“The decline in people drowning over the past two months is encouraging; a sign that with the right policy, backed by an effective operational response, it is possible to save more lives at sea,” said António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “Nonetheless, we must stay vigilant. For the thousands of refugees and migrants who continue to cross the Mediterranean every week, the risks remain very real.”

During the first six months of 2015, 68,000 people arrived on the islands of Greece and 67,500 people arrived in Italy. According to the report, 85% of those arriving in Greece are from countries experiencing war and conflict; Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. 20% of the Syrians interviewed in Greece by UNHCR stated that they did not have regular access to a toilet and 70% did not regularly receive hygiene items. 30% had no mattress to sleep on and more than half did not have access to a shower or blankets.

Most people who arrive in Greece move onwards, across the Balkans, to western and northern Europe. In the western Balkans, since the beginning of June, 1,000 people have been arriving each day. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Serbia, together only offer 3,000 reception places, significantly below the figure of 19,000, being the level of arrivals in the first weeks of June alone, according to the report.

UNHCR stresses that these people are facing serious humanitarian and protection challenges “linked to the hardship of the journey, the abuses of smugglers and criminal gangs, and the increasing tightening of the borders.”

The UN Agency calls for improved and uniform reception conditions throughout the EU, greater solidarity within Europe, the continuation of a robust search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean and increased legal avenues to safety.

Although the number of refugees entering Europe has increased, UNHCR recalls that 86% of the world’s refugees are hosted in developing countries.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 03 July 2015
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