Europe faces another million refugees this year, UN report says


As many as 1 million people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia will seek refuge in Europe this year, according to a report by global migration agencies, a number that nears levels seen last year in the continent’s worst migration crisis since World War II.

The war in Syria will continue to be the main source of migrants after triggering a spike in 2015, according to the report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration. An increasing number of people will also come from southwest Asia and northern and western Africa, and the continued flow will exacerbate tension among European Union governments already deemed incapable of dealing with new entries smoothly, they said.

“The conflict in Syria will continue unabated and will generate high levels of internal and external displacement,” the agencies said in the report published on their websites. Refugees fleeing “Afghanistan may increase amid “deteriorating security situation in the majority of the provinces and the continuing downward spiral of the economy.”

The EU is struggling to create a comprehensive plan to deal with its worst refugee crisis since World War II. The crunch has riled politics across the bloc by bolstering support for anti- immigrant parties and has prompted some governments to impose border controls with other European countries. This week, Germany and its neighbors laid the groundwork to extend a reintroduction of checks at internal borders for as long as two years, a move that departs from the EU’s principle of passport- free travel among most of its members.

The situation won’t measurably improve this year, according to the report, which estimated that about 6.5 million Syrians have been driven from their homes inside their country and another 4 million have sought shelter in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The agencies, which have drawn up a $550 million plan to help refugees, also said Afghanistan’s deteriorating security and the “downward spiral of the economy” will add to migrant numbers.

Following the December attacks in Paris and a spate of sexual assaults in Germany on New Year’s Eve that some politicians have linked to the wave of refugees, the situation has strained the political atmosphere in countries across the EU.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has come under unprecedented pressure from neighboring governments and politicians at home to put a cap on the number of people arriving in Germany after she pledged to shelter anyone deemed fit for asylum. German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a member of Merkel’s Social Democrat ruling partners, called for a cap “far” below the 1 million people who entered Germany in 2015, he said in an interview published in Rheinische Post on Wednesday.

The perception that European governments aren’t coping with migrants and the fallout of the Paris attacks “have already strengthened the public appeal of anti-migrant and refugee political messaging and parties across Europe,” the UNHCR and IOM said in the report. “Continued arrivals will most likely put strain on affected communities and their willingness to accept refugees and migrants,” it said.

Cross-border disputes have also flared. Almost 2,000 refugees who have made it through Russia are now in limbo as Finland and Norway seek to repel them back across the border in a brewing diplomatic spat. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has erected a barrier on its border with Serbia, triggering a domino effect of measures among countries trying to contain the progress of migrants as they make their way through the Balkans to northern Europe.

Germany has stepped up pressure on Greece, the main entry point into the EU for migrants from Turkey, to ward off refugees amid suspicion that the government in Athens is allowing people to through to richer countries to the north. At the same time, Greek Migration Minister Ioannis Mouzalas said Wednesday the bloc’s members haven’t’ fulfilled their commitment to take in thousands of people arriving on Greek shores.

“I’ll say it in the same cynical manner they use when they talk to me,” Mouzalas told Skai TV, referring to fellow EU- member governments. “If possible don’t send us black people, if possible don’t send us this family with 7 children, we want one with 5 children.”