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UNHCR Europe Monthly Report (May 2018)

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Trends and key figures

In May, an estimated 10,760 refugees and migrants arrived to Europe via Italy, Greece and Spain, bringing the total number of arrivals by land and sea routes to these three countries to an estimated 35,300 so far in 2018. This marks a significant decrease of 52% compared to the first five months of 2017, a period in which almost 74,150 refugees and migrants entered Europe via these three countries. The decrease so far this year is largely due to fewer people crossing from Libya to Italy. As of the end of May, the two primary nationalities arriving via the three Mediterranean routes to Europe were Syrians and Iraqis.

In Italy, just under 3,900 refugees and migrants arrived by sea in May, a slight increase compared to April but still a significant reduction compared to May 2017 when nearly 23,000 people crossed the sea, mostly from North Africa. Approximately 65% of sea arrivals to Italy in May, amounting to over 2,500 persons, departed from Libya. More than 1,700 refugees and migrants were disembarked in Libya last month after being rescued or intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard. Of those who have arrived in Italy by sea so far this year, the largest groups have been Tunisians (20%), mostly departing from Tunisia, and Eritreans (16%), departing from Libya. UNHCR continued to encounter many persons with international protection needs during disembarkation in Italy, among which many reported being detained for a year or more by armed groups and tortured for ransom. Amongst arrivals in Italy, there have been over 1,700 unaccompanied or separated children so far. A further eight persons were believed to have died in May while attempting to cross the sea to Italy contributing to a total of 374 deaths through the Central Mediterranean route so far this year. Of those making the journey from Libya, the rate of deaths in the first five months was approximately one death for every 25 persons who reached Italy.

Over 2,900 refugees and migrants arrived by sea to Greece in May compared to just over 3,000 in April and 2,100 in May last year (a 38% increase). As with previous months, a high proportion of sea arrivals appear likely to be in need of international protection. As of the end of May, most sea arrivals to Greece had been from the Syrian Arab Republic (43%), Iraq (23%) and Afghanistan (11%). Many of those arriving in recent months have been families, and children have comprised some 38% of all sea arrivals to Greece so far this year. As of the end of May, sea arrivals to Greece have increased by 55% compared to the same period in 2017 but remain far below arrival levels for 2015 and 2016. Seven people, including three children, drowned in May while trying to cross to Greece when their boat sank off the north coast of Lesvos. At the land border, the number of refugees and migrants arriving decreased compared to last month with over 1,400 recorded arrivals to Evros in May, including many families from Syria and Iraq. The total number of arrivals via Evros from January-May was some 7,300 compared to an estimated 5,600 for the whole of 2017, according to data collated by UNHCR. Despite fewer arrivals in Greece’s Evros region during May, problems still remain regarding access to asylum and timely registration as stated in a press release issued by UNHCR.

Figures on support in Greece: UNHCR continues to provide accommodation in rented housing across Greece, along with cash based assistance coupled with protection interventions, thus offering asylum-seekers decent living conditions and a return to normalcy. UNHCR’s Accommodation Scheme is part of the ESTIA programme (Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation) of the EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO). By the end of May 2018, UNHCR had secured almost 25,110 places in the accommodation scheme, in 4,324 buildings in 21 cities across Greece; and benefitting a total of over 48,283 people under the programme since November 2015. UNHCR also provides cash assistance in Greece, as part of the ESTIA programme, funded by the European Commission. In May, 49,057 eligible refugees and asylum-seekers (23,118 households) received cash assistance in Greece, in 93 locations. Additionally, UNHCR is providing support to the authorities through its stock of relief and shelter material in response to the increase in arrivals and limited availability of accommodation in mainland sites.

In Spain, almost 4,000 refugees and migrants crossed the land and sea borders from North Africa in May, triple the same month in 2017, when just over 1,300 arrived in Spain by land and sea. This means that in the first five months of the year, some 10,600 refugees and migrants arrived in Spain by land and sea, an average of just over 2,100 per month. So far, the primary countries of origin of arrivals are Guinea, the Syrian Arab Republic and Côte d’Ivoire. Deaths continued to occur during attempts to cross the sea to Spain. In May, a further 20 people are believed to have died at sea along this route making a total of 247 in the first five months of 2018, more than the whole of 2017, and amounting to one death for every 33 refugees and migrants who crossed the sea to Spain.

Movement through the Balkans, including of refugees and migrants moving onwards from Greece and Bulgaria, continued with a variety of routes in use. In the first five months of 2018, over 2,100 arrivals have been recorded in Albania (two times more than the total number of arrivals in 2017 (1,049), some 1,260 in Montenegro (already surpassing the figure from the whole 2017 - 849) and an estimated 4,800 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is almost seven times more than in entire 2017. Croatia has also noted some 2,210 attempts to irregularly enter and exit the country between January and May in 2018, a 52% increase compared to the same period last year. Over 8,500 people are estimated to have entered the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia this year from Greece and from Serbia, the vast majority of whom have stayed in the country only for a brief period of time. In Serbia, UNHCR has also noted a high increase in the number of new arrivals (over 2,100 in the first five months 2018, incl. 800 assisted in May alone), most of whom reported arriving through the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. It has also been observed that many in Serbia continue to attempt to move onwards, reportedly mainly to Bosnia and Herzegovina, while also noting an increase in push-backs or other returns from Croatia, Hungary, Romania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. People have been reported crossing through Bosnia-Herzegovina this year, including traveling from Albania via Montenegro, or entering from Serbia. In May, two men drowned in separate incidents while trying to cross rivers from Croatia to Slovenia. At the end of May, one incident involving a van reported to have been smuggling Iraqi and Afghan nationals was stopped by Croatian police who fired at the van injuring two children.

Dead and Missing: By the end of May 2018, more than 650 refugees and migrants are believed to have died while trying to cross the sea to Europe. Most deaths continued to occur along the Central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy (374 or 57%) but there has also been a worrying increase in the number of deaths along the sea route to Spain. At least 33 refugees and migrants have died along land routes in Europe or at Europe’s borders so far this year, along the land route from Turkey to Greece, or while trying to cross Italy’s northern borders. Amongst the deaths in May was a toddler killed in Belgium as police fired on a van believed to be smuggling people after it failed to stop.