The European Union said last week that the number of asylum seekers reaching the European Union by two main sea routes went down by two-thirds to 364,000 in 2016. Moreover, last year saw a significant drop in arrivals on the Greek islands but arrivals in Italy from North Africa peaked at 181,000 – the highest number ever recorded and 20 percent more than in 2015. Most refugees making their way across the sea mainly came from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan while the largest group arriving in Italy came from Nigeria, Guinea and Eritrea.
The overall drop is mostly attributed to the migrant deal between the EU and Turkey as well as tighter border controls in the Balkans. As a result, the number of migrants across the Western Balkans in 2016 fell sharply to 123 000 from 764 000 in 2015. The controversial deal between the EU and Turkey ensures that refugees stay on the Turkish territory, as Ankara pledged to stop people smugglers from moving them across the Aegean Sea to Greece. In exchange, Turkey received billions of euros and was promised visa-free travel for its citizens as well as accelerated membership talks, which have been put on hold due to recent political developments in the country, most notably the failed military coup last July.
In total, in 2016, there were an estimated 503 700 detections of illegal border crossings along the EU’s external borders and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) had said previously that 2016 was the deadliest year for migration in the Mediterranean with about 4,600 deaths. IOM released preliminary figures on all migrant and refugee deaths worldwide in 2016, estimating that 7,495 men, women and children are dead or missing across five continents. That total compares to 5,267 in 2014 and 5,740 last year. Much of the increase is due to the more advanced research methods used by IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, although many IOM officials believe that migrant routes also grew more deadly in 2016, particularly along the Central Mediterranean route between North Africa and Europe.