Record 137,000 migrants crossed Med in 2015, UNHCR

83% increase on 2014. Most went to Italy, Greece

01 July, 12:29

    Migrants crossing the Mediterranean Migrants crossing the Mediterranean

    GENEVA - A record number of 137,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean from North Africa in the first six months of 2015, United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said in a report on Wednesday. Most of those people were fleeing war and persecution, the agency said.
    UNHCR said most of the asylum seekers went to Greece and Italy - 68,000 and 67,500 respectively. The 137,000 figure is 83% higher than the 75,000 who arrived same period in 2014.
    "As Europe debates the best way to deal with the rising crisis on the Mediterranean, we must be clear - most of the people arriving by sea in Europe are refugees, seeking protection from war and persecution," said António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
    One third of the people who arrived by sea in Italy or Greece were from Syria, UNHCR said.
    The second and third most common countries of origin were Afghanistan and Eritrea.
    The report warned that, in the past, crossings have significantly increased in the second half of the year, in particular over the summer months, so it is expected that the numbers will continue to soar in 2015. Deaths at sea also rose to record levels in April, and then dropped sharply in May and June. Between January and March, 479 refugees and migrants drowned or went missing, before an unprecedented 1,308 suffered the same fate in April.
    In May, the number of refugees and migrants drowned or missing at sea fell to 68, a quarter of the figure of 226 only one year earlier. The downward trend continued in June, which saw 12 deaths compared to 305 in 2014.
    "The decline in people drowning over the past two months is encouraging - a sign that with the right policy, backed by an effective operational response, it is possible to save more lives at sea," said Guterres. "Nonetheless, we must stay vigilant. For the thousands of refugees and migrants who continue to cross the Mediterranean every week, the risks remain very real".

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