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Nearly 1 million migrants reach EU

December 18, 2015

More than 990,000 migrants have entered Europe and the number is expected to reach 1 million in the coming days, the International Organization for Migration has said. EU's Frontex border agency is beefing up its forces.

Flüchtlinge an der türkisch-bulgarischen Grenze
Image: Getty Images/AFP/B. Kilic

The Geneva-based International Organization for Migration said Friday that nearly 991,000 men, women and children had been logged entering Europe this year with the numbers continuing to rise.

"We see flows so strong this late in the year that perhaps by Tuesday, perhaps even before then, IOM estimates the 1 million mark will pass," IOM spokesman Joel Millman told reporters. "This is extraordinary."

One million migrants would be at least four times more than last year.

The announcement came on International Migrants Day and as the UN refugee agency reported that global upheaval from war, strife and poverty has put an unprecedented number of people on the move with around 1 in 122 of the world's population uprooted.

The outflow from the war-torn Middle East and poverty stricken Africa has come at a grave human cost. The IMO has recorded at least 422 deaths at sea since October 16, an average of seven a day.

"Obviously this is very alarming and we are not looking forward to a winter like last year," Millman said. "But from what we can see the flows remain robust and dangerous."

Griechenland Flüchtlinge Lesbos Symbolbild
Some 770,000 refugees from the Middle East and Africa have crossed to the Aegean islands in flimsy boatsImage: Reuters/G. Moutafis

Treacherous sea crossing from Turkey

Yet people still risk the journey to Europe. Roughly 4,300 people arrived from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands on Wednesday.

Four Iraqi migrants - two of them children - drowned after a boat taking them to the Greek island of Kos sank off the Turkish coast early Friday, Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

The EU controversially pledged Turkey 3 billion euros ($3.25 billion) to prevent migrants from trying to reach the EU from Turkish territory. Rights groups have criticized the plan, saying it does not do enough to ensure Ankara treats refugees suitably. Rights groups have also reported that refugees have been sent back to conflict zones.

EU officials, however, said they are so far pleased that migrants appear to be intercepted by Turkish police and prevented from trying to cross to Europe.

"For us it is important to continue work with Turkey on the implementation of the action plan," Frans Timmermans, deputy head of the European Commission said. "I'm strongly encouraged to do that because of the positive and proactive attitude of Prime Minister [Ahmet] Davutoglu."

Grenze Bulgarien Türkei Sicherheitszaun
Boosting Frontex is a key element in the EU's response to refugees from the Middle East and AsiaImage: picture-alliance/dpa/V. Donev

EU tightening external borders

Several European countries have responded to the refugee crisis by erecting walls and fences and beefing up border forces as more and more people continue to try and reach the EU in search of better living conditions.

The EU's border agency, Frontex, said it plans to use its increased 2016 budget to deploy more border police, purchase equipment to register arrivals and lease aircraft and vehicles for increased patrols.

The EU wants to replace the agency with a European Border and Coast Guard with a dedicated 1,500-strong force empowered to operate anywhere within the 28-nation bloc - regardless of whether the EU countries affected want the Frontex officers' support.

That proposal - especially the right to deploy EU border guards without being invited by a member state - has run into opposition from several EU members.

Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri welcomed the proposal to expand his agency's powers and increased its budget from 143 million euros in 2015 to 238 million next year. By 2020, the new agency could have budget of 322 million euros.

"For me it's a very positive proposal because it's in line with the needs we have and it's also in line with the reality," Leggeri told Reuters on Thursday.

Highlighting difficulties in receiving resources from the 28 individual member states, Leggeri said that out of the 775 additional border guards he requested this fall, so far only around 450 had arrived.

"I don't want to blame member states because most of them just reached their limits," Leggeri said. "That's why this marks a big change - more border guards and more equipment available for crisis management would give the agency more operational autonomy."

The hope for a new home

jar/sms (Reuters, AP)