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UN: Record number of migrants crossed Med

November 2, 2015

More than 218,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe by sea in October, a United Nations official says. Germany's asylum policies have been cited as one of the reasons for the increase.

Refugees and migrants arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey on October 26, 2015.
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Messinis

A record 218,394 people crossed the Mediterranean Sea to seek refuge in Europe during last month alone, the UN's refugee agency said Monday.

"That makes it the highest total for any month to date and roughly the same as the entire total for 2014," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards he said. UN figures indicate that all but 8,000 of October's arrivals landed in Greece. According to the agency, about 219,000 people fleeing war or poverty arrived by sea using smugglers' boats during 2014.

Another UNHCR spokesman said that the people on the move had been telling the agency's staff they feared Germany's immigration policies might soon become more restrictive and that's why they were rushing to Europe.

"The fact that Germany has had a very generous asylum policy has been part of the factors," UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told German news agency dpa.

Spindler added that many were also undertaking the increasingly dangerous sea journey before the weather conditions worsened even more in the winter months.

Refugees in Slovenia on the way to Austria
The fear of tightening asylum policies has prompted many people to migrate, the UN saysImage: Reuters/L. Foeger

The October record trumps the previous record set in September, when 172,800 sea journeys were made from northern Africa and Turkey to Europe's southern border nations, namely Italy and Greece.

The soaring numbers of new arrivals brought the total so far this year to more than 744,000.

More than half of them came from Syria, which since 2011 has been in an increasingly complex war. About four million Syrians have fled abroad, mostly to neighboring countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, where they face increasing despair amid rising living costs, food insecurity, unemployment and a lack of educational opportunities. People from Afghanistan and Eritrea make up the second- and third-largest groups by nationality.

Graves on the island of lesbos (Photo: O. Gill)
The mayor of Lesbos says the island is running out of space to bury people who died trying to reach EuropeImage: DW/O.Gill

Rescues, deaths at sea

With more people attempting the journey on flimsy, overcrowded smugglers' boats, drownings have become a near-daily occurrence. The Greek coast guard on Monday reported that more than 1,400 refugees and migrants had been picked up in the Aegean Sea in 39 separate search and rescue operations between Friday morning and Monday morning.

At least 19 people died in that timeframe during the short but dangerous crossing from Turkey.

The Associated Press news agency reports the Greek island of Lesbos, one of the main arrival points for refugees, was running out of space to bury the bodies of those who died on the journey. The island's mayor Spyros Galinos told radio station Vima FM on Monday that there were more than 50 bodies in the morgue waiting to be assigned a burial location.

se/es (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)