Greece overtakes Italy as top migrant entry point to Europe

Syrians and Afghans make up the bulk of migrants who have landed in Greece so far this year.

Yannis Behrakis/Reuters/File
Syrian refugees disembark from a Greek ferry after arriving in the port of Piraeus near Athens on June 14, 2015.

The number of migrants arriving on Greek shores were up by 408 percent over the first half of 2015 compared to the same period last year, making the country the most popular European gateway for migrants.

The data, compiled by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), shows that between January 1 and July 17, about 101,000 migrants arrived in Greece by sea, The Guardian reported.

According to the UNHCR, nearly 60,000 of the migrants are Syrian who arrived in Greece by boat. Afghans with 20,000 arrivals, are the second most common nationality making the journey.

The Guardian reports that now Greece has replaced Italy as the principal entry point to Europe.

On July 10, UNHCR reported that an average of 1,000 refugees arrive on the Greek islands on a daily basis.

“The numbers of people arriving are now so high that, despite all efforts, the authorities and local communities can no longer cope," said UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler.

Europe does not act in unison on the issue of migrant influx. While in the wake of turmoil in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, some countries have agreed to consider less strict immigration measures, others are pursuing deterrent plans to stop the flow of illegal migrants.

In mid-July, Hungary laid out plans to construct an anti-migration fence along its border with Serbia. In Italy, northern regions have been refusing to accept more migrants. UNHCR says in some countries there are reports of border police preventing refugees from entering.

The surge in the number of refugees partly stems from the crisis in Syria. On July 9, UNHCR announced that for the first time the number of Syrian refugees exceeded four million.

Hanrieta Moore, a professor at the UCL Institute for Global Prosperity, wrote in The Guardian that even though the Mediterranean migrant crisis has been framed as a purely political issue, climate change and business interests are also fueling the catastrophe.

She explained that in the case of Syria, “the continuing destabilization of Syria appears to have a lot more to do with western-backed strategic gas pipelines in the region than any concern for democracy.”

Ms. Moore went on to say that climate change has also been identified as one of the most significant drivers of human migration, adding that according to the Environmental Justice Foundation, there will be an estimated 150 million climate refugees worldwide by 2050.

“Recent research has suggested a causal link between the prolonged droughts that ravaged Syria’s farmland from 2007 to 2010 with mass internal migration – adding to tensions which contributed to the explosion of violence from 2011 onwards,” she said.

Moore suggested that one way to tackle the immigration is to help the economy grow in developing nations through foreign direct investment (FDI). She explained that the investment should aspire self-development so that people don’t feel they need to escape from their societies in order to find the personal security and opportunities.

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