Desperate Journeys: Refugees and migrants entering and crossing Europe via the Mediterranean and Western Balkans routes (January - June 2017)
Far fewer refugees and migrants entered Europe via the Mediterranean routes than in the first half of 2016,1 largely due to a drastic decrease in numbers crossing the sea to Greece.2 The first six months of 2017 saw an increase in the number of refugees and migrants entering Europe via the Central Mediterranean route to Italy, with 83,752 arrivals.3 However, due to lower arrival levels in July, numbers have remained at a similar level to last year. Arrivals also increased via the Western Mediterranean route to Spain (by 93%) compared to the same period last year. Between January and June 2017, 6,524 entered Spain by sea along with 2,983 by land, amounting to 9,507 arrivals, an average of just over 1,500 per month.
Numbers of those arriving in Greece from Turkey by sea (9,286) are 94% lower than in the first half of 2016, in particular compared to the first three months of last year when over 150,000 refugees and migrants arrived by sea in Greece. Overall, the number of refugees and migrants who arrived via the Eastern Mediterranean route (including Bulgaria, Cyprus and the Greek land border with Turkey) in the first six months was 92% lower than in the same period in 2016. With the arrival of the summer season, numbers along all three routes increased in May and June.
Refugees and migrants continue to face grave dangers during their journeys to Europe as well as while travelling through Europe. In recent months, refugees and migrants arriving in Italy have described surviving the deadly desert crossing from Niger,4 kidnappings, torture and detention in Libya,5 and the dangerous sea journey, in which 2,171 people are estimated to have already died this year along that route compared to 2,470 in the same period last year. Those 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 since the start of 2015, being held captive for extortion or else abandoned by smugglers, and being sent back across borders at night by masked police. Many of those arriving in Spain reported hardships during their journeys such as crossing the sea in flimsy inflatable boats or suffering violence while trying to cross the fences at the land border.
These risks do not end once in Europe. Those moving onwards irregularly from Greece and Bulgaria have reported abuses at the hands of smugglers, as well as being beaten, set upon by police dogs and pushed back by some border authorities. Of the 40 reported deaths along land routes in the first six months of 2017, 29 (or 73%) have occurred as refugees and migrants have tried to travel onwards from one European Union (EU) Member State to another.
At least three of the deaths were of unaccompanied or separated children (UASC). In February and March this year, unaccompanied and separated children, including those trying to join family members elsewhere in Europe, described to UNICEF and REACH the many dangers they faced during multiple attempts to try to cross from Italy to France,6 a border region where six people have died since the start of the year, while 20 people have died in eleven separate incidents so far this year while trying to travel onwards irregularly from Greece and Bulgaria.