A newly compiled report by UNHCR titled “Desperate Journeys” shows a decline in the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe in the first half of 2017. Moreover, comparing to 2016 when most migrants came to Europe through Greece, in 2017 almost seven times more came via the Central Mediterranean route to Italy. Number of refugees and migrants who arrived via the Eastern Mediterranean route through Bulgaria, Cyprus, Turkey and Greece in the first six months of 2017 was 92% lower than in the same period 2016.
First half of 2017 was also marked by violations of rights of refugees and migrants who, without legal means available, are still resorting to being transported by ruthless people-smuggling and trafficking networks, risking death, serious abuses, or both. Despite the fall in arrivals, the likelihood of dying among people seeking to reach Europe is still alarmingly high. The report says an estimated 2,253 people died or went missing at sea, and at least 40 died on land routes at or near European borders. People crossing from Turkey to Greece or Bulgaria have described terrifying night journeys across the short stretch of sea to Greece in which more than 1,200 people have drowned in the past two years, being held captive for extortion or being sent back across borders by masked police. Out of 40 registered casualties, 73% have occurred as refugees and migrants have tried to travel onwards from one EU Member State to another and at least three of the deaths were unaccompanied or separated children.
“Taking measures to reduce the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe, without at the same time stepping up peace-making, development, and safe pathways is morally unacceptable,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. “We can’t afford to ignore abuses clearly taking place simply because they happen out of our sight.”
The report notes that renewed commitment is needed to ensure protection and legal pathways to thousands of desperate refugees escaping war and persecution, as well as to take concrete steps to address smuggling and trafficking in humans. Legal pathways nowadays include resettlement and family reunification programmes, which need to be increased and procedures have to be fastened as a way to protect refugees and migrants from criminal networks, reduce reliance on smugglers, and reduce further abuse and deaths. For those already in Europe, more needs to be done to strengthen access to asylum procedures and effective protection, especially when it comes to unaccompanied and separated children including improving registration. Age assessments and guardianship systems, as well as broader case arrangements.