UNHCR report on Desperate Journeys

Movement has continued but taken more diversified and dangerous journeys after increased border restrictions were introduced in 2016 aimed at restricting refugee and migrant movements towards and inside Europe.

This is the conclusion of the Desperate Journeys report (full PDF) published by the UN’s Refugee Agency, UNHRCR.

“The lack of accessible and safe pathways leads refugees and migrants to take enormous risks while attempting to reach Europe, including those simply trying to join family members” (Vincent Cochetel, director of UNHCR’s Europe Bureau)

Due to the closure of the Western Balkan route and the EU/Turkey Agreement, since April 2016 smaller numbers of people have continued to leave Turkey along the Eastern Mediterranean route. Most cross by sea to Greece, but some also cross land borders to Greece and Bulgaria, or travel by sea to Cyprus.

82% of those who have arrived in Serbia are from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and almost half are children (20% of those unaccompanied). The report notes that “as a result of stronger border restrictions many rely on smugglers, taking high risks which resulted in several deaths in 2016”.

The Central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy has since become the primary entry point to Europe. However, arrival trends in Italy show that the primary nationalities who crossed to Greece had not switched in significant numbers to the Central Mediterranean route.

The report notes that 181,436 people arrived in Italy by sea during 2016. Ninety per cent had travelled by boat from Libya.

Those who came to Italy in 2016 include people in need of international protection, and also victims of trafficking and migrants seeking better lives. The top two nationalities of those arriving in Italy were Nigerians (21%) and Eritreans (11%).

The report says that the increasing number of unaccompanied and separated children making the journey – doubling in number year on year to over 25,000 in 2016 – is “striking”, representing 14% of all new arrivals in Italy.

The number of refugees and migrants reported dead or missing while at sea (5,096) tragically rose in 2016.

One in forty people crossing the Mediterranean to reach Italy died during 2016.

The report also notes that during the final months of 2016, there was a shift in the pattern of migration with more people reaching Europe “through the Western Mediterranean route, either by crossing the sea to Spain from Morocco and Algeria, or by entering the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta”.

The nine page report also recognises that “tens of thousands of people have been reportedly pushed back by border authorities in Europe, including in Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Serbia, Spain, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, with many cases of alleged violence and abuses in an apparent attempt to deter further entry attempts”.