Persecution, conflict and poverty forced an unprecedented 1 million people to flee from Africa and the Middle East to Europe in 2015. With the beginning of the new year, the picture remains much the same at southern Europe’s border crossings.
The European Union is considering new measures to stop the flow, as humanitarian agencies continue struggling to help the refugees.
Brian Hansford, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, called the refugees "desperate people resorting to desperate measures. Unfortunately, without a political solution, tragically, these numbers are likely to grow. The numbers are massive, but each one represents an individual tragedy.”
There’s a wide perception in parts of Europe and North America that the migrants are mostly men, which has fueled public concern about the crisis. But UNICEF’s Christopher Tidey said 52 percent are women and children. And, he added, they're not coming because they want to.
“They are saying that they are coming because they have to," Tidey said. "They feel that they have no other choice in order to make sure they survive and to protect the lives of their children.”
Tidey said the Balkan countries are doing their best to help children and their families on the move, "particularly when they are crossing borders. Most of the countries, the key border crossings, sort of established reception centers where humanitarian services are available for people who need it.”
Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, said it’s important to safeguard the EU’s principle of free movement within its boundaries — a principle some say is threatened by the sheer number of migrants.
“This means that flows have to be slowed down," Avramopoulos said. "The only way forward is European solutions with all 28 member states in order to protect borders, respect rules and ensure relocation.”
At the same time, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees continues to call for consistent measures to assure safety for the refugees through more resettlement and humanitarian admission programs and more flexible visa arrangements. The crisis is still very much alive.