Migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe face more dangers than ever

Migrants and refugees arrive in Europe

While fewer migrants and refugees attempted the perilous journey to Europe in 2017, compared to 2016, those who did faced more dangers than ever says a new report from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). It is believed that during 2017 an estimated 3’100 people died at sea while trying to reach Europe, compared to 5’100 in 2016. This significant decrease was mainly due to the sharp drop in the number of attempted journeys to Europe.

Decrease in migrations flows as a result of restrictions put in place at Europe’s borders

As noted by the report, the most notable trend in migration flows during 2017 was the significant reduction of arrivals to Italy from Libya as the number of refugees and migrants using this route decreased from July onwards. This trend continued during the first three months of 2018, with a 74 per cent drop compared to 2017.

UNHCR – Dead and missing along sea and land routes

The report also noted an increase in sea arrivals to Spain and Greece towards the end of 2017. On a more positive note, the report noted that a higher number of people resettled in Europe, mainly Syrians, as well as more vulnerable refugees evacuated from Libya to Niger and Italy.

The sharp drop in the number of migrants and refugees attempting to reach Europe by sea was mainly due to restrictions put in place by European countries, often in partnership with a number of African countries. These restrictions have forced those seeking international protection and better living conditions to find alternative routes, where many faced more threats to their physical and psychological security.

Death rate on the rise

The journey to Italy has proved increasingly perilous, the death rate amongst those crossing from Libya increased to 1 for every 14 people in the first three months of 2018, compared to 1 for every 29 people in the same period in 2017. A deterioration of the health was also observed with many people in poor health condition and generally very weak.

With Hungary having put severe restrictions in place, refugees and migrants were forced to find alternative routes to move within Europe. These included crossing from Serbia to Romania, or moving from Greece to Croatia, via Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Migrants and refugees arrive in Europe
Migrants and refugees arriving in Europe, 2015. Credit: Ggia

In addition to the risks they faced at sea, many migrants and refugees also reported enduring abuses and extortion, including sexual violence, at the hands of traffickers, smugglers or armed groups along various routes to Europe with women and unaccompanied children particularly exposed. In 2017, a total of 17,000 unaccompanied children arrived in Europe, most of them arriving by sea in Italy.

More migrants and refugees resettled to Europe in 2017

On a more positive note, the report showed some progress in the number of people resettled to Europe in 2017, with a 54 per cent increase compared to 2016. The majority of the 26,400 refugees were Syrians (84 per cent) and were resettled from Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. The three European countries that received the largest number of refugees were the United Kingdom, Sweden and Germany.

Some of the key recommendations of the report were related to :

  • the need to increase solidarity among States within Europe and with countries of first asylum and transit,
  • to enhance the quality of reception, especially for unaccompanied and separated children and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence,
  • to better protect children.