Mediterranean Migration

Last updated 21 November 2016

Every year, thousands of people fleeing violence, insecurity or persecution at home attempt a treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. And every year, countless lives are lost on these journeys.

More than 65.3 million people worldwide were displaced from their homes at the end of 2015, compared to 59.5 million just 12 months earlier.

According to the International Organization for Migration, 343,000 people have arrived by boat in Europe in 2016 alone (as of mid-November). Approximately the same number of migrants and refugees arrived in Greece (170,712) and Italy (167,653), with smaller numbers arriving in Spain (4,971).

Tragically, as of mid-November 2016, more than 4,600 people have drowned or gone missing after their boats capsized or sank – far surpassing the 2,794 deaths estimated for all of 2015 and making 2016 the deadliest year on record.

Externalized border controls in transit countries and countries of origin cannot be the EU's solution to the European refugee crisis

The enforcement of migration cooperation deals between the EU and its member states with third countries is resulting in unacceptable humanitarian consequences, including high levels of violence and a sustained erosion of refugee and asylum law.

The EU-Turkey proposed deal, presented as 'the' solution to the current crisis, is a perfect illustration of this dangerous approach. Unless concrete protection measures to assure equal treatment and the dignity, safety and protection of people on the move are in place, abuses of migrants and refugees will worsen with increased externalization of border control.

For more information on arrivals, demographics and deaths, please consult the IOM and UNHCR websites.

The urgent need for safe passage

Europe’s restrictive policies put some of the world’s most vulnerable people in more danger, causing more suffering, as they risk it all to try to bring themselves, and their families, to safety. European countries (and transit countries) have the responsibility to ensure their policies guarantee the right to seek asylum and respect fundamental rights and human dignity.

To save lives and alleviate suffering, people need to be provided with safe passage, by:

  • Swiftly providing safe and legal channels for people seeking asylum, in particular allowing asylum seekers to apply for asylum at external land borders, including the Evros land border between Turkey and Greece. This also includes making wider use of legal entry schemes, such as family reunification, humanitarian visas, simplified visa requirements, resettlement and relocation.
  • Creating legal migration pathways to decrease the demand for irregular migration and smuggling networks. 
  • Creating an ambitious search and rescue mechanism to save lives at sea. This operation should proactively search for boats in distress as close to departure points as possible and should be accompanied by pre-identified disembarkation points where humane disembarkation procedures, including adequate reception conditions, medical care and vulnerability assessments, are in place.
  • Investing in the reception of asylum seekers, according to EU standards, instead of deterrence measures only. Europe must move away from a fortress approach to a reception approach designed to address the needs and specific vulnerabilities of people arriving at its borders, in particular their medical and mental health needs.
  • In the absence of a functioning common European asylum system, investing more ambitiously in intra-EU relocation schemes and the creation of safe passage through the EU.
  • Putting an end to acts of violence and abuse by state authorities.

What is MSF doing to help?

MSF has been providing assistance to people crossing the Mediterranean to Europe since the autumn of 2002, when an MSF team started working in Lampedusa reception centre, providing new arrivals with medical care.

Since then we have been assisting people at multiple points along the route:

  • This year, MSF teams on board three search and rescue boats in the Central Mediterranean Sea have rescued over 17,000 people (as late October 2016). In 2015, MSF teams in the Central Mediterranean assisted over 23,000 people in 120 separate rescue interventions and assisted 18,000 people crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands in partnership with Greenpeace.

  • In Italy and Greece, MSF teams are providing first assistance, medical and psychological support, shelter, water, sanitation and essential relief items at reception centres and transit camps, as well as providing food and clothing on several Greek islands.

  • MSF teams are working at multiple points along the Balkans overland route, especially at the borders of Greece and Serbia, providing healthcare, sanitation, food, shelter and transportation. Almost 5,000 people, mainly from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq are currently in Serbia, with an estimated influx of 200 new arrivals per day.

  • In Tunisia, MSF is training local fishermen in search and rescue, and training teams from the Tunisian and Libyan Red Crescents in dead body management.

  • MSF has begun supporting asylum seekers in Götene municipality of Sweden – where one in ten residents is an asylum seeker – with mental health and psychosocial activities. The project uses an innovative and culturally sensitive model of care that prioritises early intervention using individual and group counselling sessions.

On 17 June 2016 we announced that MSF will no longer take funds from the European Union and Member States, in opposition to their damaging deterrence policies and intensifying attempts to push people and their suffering away from European shores. This decision will take effect immediately and will apply to MSF’s projects worldwide.

For more on refugees and migrants arriving in Europe, see Italy and Greece.

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