GENEVA: The number of refugees and migrants arriving by land and sea in the European Union has passed 1 million this year, while a further 3,600 died or went missing, the UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration said on Tuesday.
Half of those arriving were Syrians fleeing the war, another 20 percent were Afghans, and 7 percent were Iraqis, the two agencies said in a joint statement.
Out of a total of 1,005,504 arrivals to Greece, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, Malta and Cyprus by Dec. 21, the vast majority 816,752 arrived by sea in Greece, IOM said.
“We know migration is inevitable, it’s necessary and it’s desirable,” IOM chief William Lacy Swing said in the statement.
“But it’s not enough to count the number of those arriving or the nearly 4,000 this year reported missing or drowned. We must also act. Migration must be legal, safe and secure for all both for the migrants themselves and the countries that will become their new home.”
The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR is planning for arrivals to continue at a similar rate in 2016, but IOM spokesman Joel Millman said it was impossible to forecast future numbers.
“So much is in the balance, the resolution of the Syrian war, and the disposition of the European border protection moves that are being contemplated,” he said.
“We never thought it would reach this level. We just hope people are treated with dignity.”
The record movement of people into Europe is a symptom of a record level of disruption around the globe, with numbers of refugees and internally displaced people far surpassing 60 million, UNHCR said last week.
“I don’t understand why people are insisting that this is a European problem. This is a global issue,” Michael Moller, director of the U.N. office in Geneva, told a news conference on Tuesday.
The U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres called on Friday for a “massive resettlement” of Syrian and other refugees within Europe, to distribute many hundreds of thousands of people before the continent’s asylum system crumbles.
He called for European countries to recognize the positive contributions made by refugees and migrants and to honor what he said were “core European values: protecting lives, upholding human rights and promoting tolerance and diversity.”