Record numbers of refugees crossed the Mediterranean last month


The number of asylum seekers who crossed the Mediterranean sea in hopes of finding refuge in Europe hit a new record last month–218,394 people made the dangerous journey in October, according to the latest U.N. figures. That’s more than the number of people who made the same journey in the whole of 2014.

The International Organization for Migration says 315 people died trying to make that trip last month. Just last week, a boat sank on its way from Turkey to Greece, killing at least 17 children and 9 adults. And a photo of another child’s body washed up on a beach, reminiscent of the image of drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, was taken by an A.F.P. photographer.

With the numbers of asylum seekers trying to reach Europe (still more than 50% of whom were Syrians) continuing to rise, the European Union is still divided over how to handle the situation. Germany, despite some internal conflict, has adopted an open asylum seeker policy.

Meanwhile, just two weeks ago, Bulgarian border police shot dead an Afghan refugee trying to cross into the country. And over the weekend Sweden’s foreign minister said that though all E.U. members should fulfill their duties towards refugees, Sweden in the long run faces “collapse” if the rate of arrivals continues at its current pace. The E.U.-wide summits held over the last two months to try to come up with cohesive plans have made halting progress. A system that sets quotas of refugees for each member state was passed despite the objections of Eastern European nations including Romania, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

But the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said last week that the world needs to provide more aid and more development support to Syria’s neighboring countries in order to stem the largest forced migration the world has seen since the second World War.

The root cause of the refugees flooding out of Syria (more than 4 million Syrians have fled their home country since 2011) is the ongoing civil war in the country, between President Bashar Al-Assad, separatist groups and ISIS. Last week, the first round of international peace talks were held in Vienna to try to broker a peace deal in Syria, with the involvement for the first time of Iran, a major ally of the Assad regime.

In the only public statement he has made about his people fleeing Syria en masse, Assad blamed “terrorism” for the refugee crisis, denying that his regime has contributed to the instability in the country. International human rights groups including Amnesty International have been calling for Assad to be brought before a war crimes tribunal for allegedly persecuting Syrians and using chemical weapons and barrel bombs against civilians.

According to the UNHCR’s latest count, 3,440 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year. Another  744,175 people survived the trip and crossed into Europe.

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