High predictions for migrant numbers

  • 02/10/2015

By Benjamin Simon

The UN refugee agency says it expects 700,000 migrants and refugees to reach Europe via the Mediterranean this year and projected at least the same amount again in 2016.

"UNHCR's response is now based on the assumption that up to 700,000 people will seek safety and international protection in Europe in 2015, and possibly even higher numbers in 2016," the agency said on Thursday (local time), issuing a revised funding appeal.

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards confirmed that the figures specifically referred to people expected to seek refuge by crossing the Mediterranean.

The UNHCR had previously projected 350,000 arrivals in 2015, but those figures had not been updated in many months - and on Tuesday, it said 520,000 people had already arrived on Europe's shores this year.

Nearly 3000 people have perished or disappeared trying to make the crossing.

Overall, the latest figures show the agency expects no let up in the waves of people making the perilous sea crossing to escape conflict and strife in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

More than half of those to have reached Europe this year were Syrians fleeing the country's brutal civil war, which has forced at least four million people to leave their homeland and internally displaced more than 7.6 million others.

Refugees from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Nigeria and Iraq make up the main other nationalities after the Syrian contingent.

The 2015 figures and the projections for 2016 mark a major surge compared to last year, when the agency recorded 219,000 migrant and refugee arrivals in Europe by sea.

The surge in migrants this year led the cash-strapped UNHCR to appeal for more funding, noting the "very volatile operational context" it is facing.

The organisation, which has launched a special funding campaign to respond to the crisis, estimated total financial needs at US$128 million (NZ$200 million) from last June through to December 2016.