The number of displaced people fleeing from war, conflict or persecution and looking for a better future in other countries has exceeded 59 million, the highest number since World War II, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Since the beginning of 2015, some 153,000 migrants were identified at Europe’s external borders, which represents a 149 percent increase when compared to the same period in 2014, according to recent numbers from the European Union’s Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States, Frontex.
The deepening of the civil wars in Syria and Iraq, regional conflicts and crises in Afghanistan, the Middle East and in some African countries have triggered the dramatic increase in the flow of refugees fleeing from the regions to Europe.
The economic crisis in Greece, the main landing point in Europe for migrants heading into the Balkans, has also caused weakness in border controls, especially in some of the Greek islands which are close to mainland Turkey. As a result, more and more refugees have been trying to cross to Europe through the Balkans in the recent months.
According to the figures of Frontex, compared to April, the largest increase was reported on the Western Balkan route, especially through Hungarian land bordering Serbia where in May the number of apprehended migrants exceeded 10,000. In the period between January and June, over 50,000 migrants were found on this route, an 880 percent increase compared to the same period in 2014.
The number of refugees and migrants who crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe during the first six months of 2015 to flee from war, conflict or persecution hit the highest on record in history, according to figures given by the UNHCR.
One third of the men, women and children who arrived by sea in Italy or Greece were from Syria, whose nationals are almost universally deemed to qualify for refugee status or other forms of protection, according to the UNHCR. The second and third most common countries of origin are Afghanistan and Eritrea, whose nationals are also mostly considered to qualify for refugee status.
Around 79,000 migrants crossed illegally from Turkey into Greece in the first six months of 2015, according to Frontex. Some remained in Greece, but most continued north across Macedonia and Serbia into Hungary, which saw 67,000 illegal arrivals.
More than 81,000 migrants have crossed into Hungary so far in 2015, the Hungarian government has revealed. They expect the number to reach 150,000 by the end of the year.
A fence is to be built on Hungary’s border with Serbia in order to stem the flow of migrants and refugees, the Hungarian government has also revealed, prompting criticism from rights groups.
Main routes of immigrants to the EU:
1) From North Africa to Italy and Malta: Since 2013, this route has become the main path of illegal immigration to the EU. Most of the would-be immigrants have arrived in North Africa from sub-Saharan Africa and from the Middle East, notably Syria and Iraq. Last year witnessed a record of 170,800 arrivals via this route, according to figures from the Frontex. Frontex forecast in early March that 500,000 to 1 million migrants could arrive this year.
2) From Turkey to Greece and Bulgaria: This route is used by immigrants coming via Turkey and passing through EU members Greece and Bulgaria. The Greek islands close to Turkey’s mainland, especially Lesbos, Samos, Kos and Chios have become the main route for the illegal maritime route in 2015. In 2014, 50,830 migrants illegally entered the EU via this eastern Mediterranean route, twice as many as in 2013. Syrian, Iraqi refugees, but also Afghans and Somalis made up the bulk of the migrants.
3) From North Africa to Spain: More than 7,840 illegal entries were recorded in 2014 along this route by Frontex. On this migration route, more than half of the crossings concern the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, Spanish exclaves on the Moroccan coast. The proportion of migrants trying to cross the Strait of Gibraltar accounts for 45 percent of illegal migrants registered in the area.