By Jordan Federer
After 2015, a year in which over one million refugees and migrants traveled to the EU, 362,376 people arrived in 2016 by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Of the 362,376 refugees and migrants that arrived by sea in 2016, 48% entered through Greece (Eastern Mediterranean Route), 50% through Italy (Central Mediterranean Route), and 2% through Spain (Western Mediterranean Route). Once migrants and asylum-seekers entered the EU through Greece, they tried to continue their journey towards Western Europe vis-à-vis the Western Balkan Route (through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, and Croatia). Syrians, Iraqis and Afghanis were the predominant nationalities of those that made use of the Western Balkan Route. Overall, refugees and migrants traveled out of the following countries: Syria (23%), Afghanistan (12%), Nigeria (10%), Iraq (8%), Eritrea (6%), Guinea (4%), Côte d’Ivoire (4%), The Gambia (4%), Pakistan (3%), and Senegal (3%). In 2016, approximately 1,195,265 asylum applications were filed and the top five nationalities of asylum applications were Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Iran. The top five destination countries for asylum seekers were Germany, Italy, France, Greece, and the UK. Approximately 56% of first instance asylum applications received a positive decision. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Accommodation/Relocation Program currently provides those whose applications either have not yet been reviewed or those who have received a negative decision with temporary places to stay either in “apartments, hotel buildings, host families and relocation sites with services,” which serve as alternatives to camps.
In February and March of 2016, Macedonia closed its border along the northern part of Greece. The move by Macedonia was “part of a chain reaction” of border restrictions in both Slovenia and Serbia. This coordinated effort resulted in the closure of the Western Balkan Route, stranding thousands of migrants, mostly Syrian and Iraqi migrants, on the Greek side of the border. In the same month, the EU and Turkey executed a deal (The “EU-Turkey Statement”), in which “Ankara would take back all illegal migrants who cross to Greece, including Syrians, in return for the EU taking in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and rewarding it with more money, early visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations.” The UNHCR argues that the EU-Turkey Statement’s commitment to pushing refugees back into Turkey and Syria where they face persecution is a violation of the European Convention of Human Rights. Additionally, as a result of the Balkan border closures and the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement, migrant camps across Greece were turned into quasi-detention centers. Thousands of people fleeing war torn countries such as Syria and Iraq found themselves at the mercy of the Greek government and the EU-Turkey Statement’s directive. Organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Doctors Without Borders have publicly criticized the Greek government’s treatment of detained refugees and the conditions as “inhumane” and “fetid.”