Migrant Crossings On The Rise

Depiction of the amount of migrant crossings each year, and Jan.-Feb. 2016. Source: UNHCR

Depiction of the amount of migrant crossings each year, and Jan.-Feb. 2016. Source: UNHCR

In the first few weeks of Feb. 2016 alone, 16,861 migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea, while only 7,271 made the journey in all of Feb. 2015. Not only that, but 403 migrants have either drowned or gone missing during their attempts to reach European countries in the first five weeks of this year, compared to only 69 deaths during the same period last year. The latest tragedy happened on Monday, Feb. 8, when 24 migrants, including 11 children, drowned while crossing the Aegean Sea. The boat sank off the coast of Edremit, Turkey, while apparently intending to reach the Greek island of Lesbos, a common destination for migrants. Migrant crossings have markedly increased since 2014, when sea arrivals only tallied 216,054 but then shot up to 1,015,078 in 2015.  There are a few clear reasons for this overwhelming growth, including the Libyan and Syrian Civil Wars and elevated conflict in Africa and the Middle East.

Key migration routes from North Africa. Source: i-Map, Frontex

Key migration routes from North Africa. Source: i-Map, Frontex

The civil war in Libya enables smugglers to transport migrants more easily to the Libyan coast, where they overcrowd dinghies and other small boats in order to cross the tumultuous seas that separate them from Europe.  The country has been unstable since the 2011 fall of leader Muammar Qaddafi, and a combination of weak borders and governance make the journey easier than before, but undeniably treacherous. By charging migrants a fee to transport them across the country, Libyan rebels are able to secure a position for themselves within the fragile political environment.  

The biggest factor in driving migrants out of their home countries thus far has been the conflict in Syria, which worsens each day. In Jan. 2016, more than 56% of Greece’s refugee arrivals cited the Syrian conflict as the reason for their migration. However, there are other conflicts in the region, including tensions in Afghanistan and Eritrea, and extreme poverty in Kosovo. While life in Europe offers a brighter future for many refugees, EU member countries have been making it even more difficult for migrants to seek refuge within their borders, driving many to seek out illegal avenues instead. As migrant numbers increase, the amount of children among them has increased alarmingly as well.  While only one in ten refugees were children in Sept. 2015, now the UN Refugee Agency places that number at one in three.

Origins of migrants applying for asylum in Europe. Source: Eurostat, BBC

Origins of migrants applying for asylum in Europe. Source: Eurostat, BBC.

As migrant numbers increase, their countries of destination face the problem of what to do with the thousands of daily arrivals. Some of them, like Greece and Turkey, are more concerned with tightening their borders than resettlement.  EU ministers voted to relocate 120,000 refugees across Europe in Sept. 2015, but that motion is currently only affecting 66,000 people in Greece and Italy. The remaining people are being held “in reserve” by the Hungarian government.

Location of refugees around the world. Lighter colors = fewer refugees, darker colors = millions of refugees. Source: The Guardian

Location of refugees around the world. Lighter colors = fewer refugees, darker colors = millions of refugees. Source: The Guardian.

While it is critical that the United States recognize the plight of displaced persons crossing the Mediterranean, it is important to understand that this happens all over the world, but often not into Western countries. The refugee crisis came into the international spotlight as migrants began to pour into countries similar to the U.S., like Greece, Italy, and France, but other similar crises in non-Western regions go relatively unnoticed. Organizations like Amnesty International are working to solve the problem of the 19.5 million refugees worldwide, with goals of resettlement, abolishing xenophobia, ending trafficking, and funding the ‘broke’ UN refugee agencies.  

Read more about the refugee crisis in Elizabeth Murphy’s (’17) review of the documentary film Salam Neighbor. 

Featured image credit: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images.

About the author

Elizabeth doesn't have her real license yet.