Ethnic make-up of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe

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Syrians account for 50% of the refugees arriving in Europe after crossing the Mediterranean, but several other nationalities are turning up in large numbers. According to UN figures, 75% of the total refugees hail from countries in the midst of armed conflict or humanitarian crises. So apart from Syria, where are they coming from, why did they leave, and how are they reaching Europe?

Afghans – 13% – According to the Afghan government, 80% of the country is not safe, as extremist groups such as the Taliban and Islamic State’s local affiliate are waging insurgencies in many provinces. Most are walking over the border into Iran, a trek that takes up to two days. Then they drive to Iran’s border with Turkey, where they cross again on foot, in another laborious hike. Once in Turkey, Afghans take a day’s bus journey to the same Aegean ports many Syrians are using to reach Greece.

Eritreans – 8% – Eritrea is Africa’s version of North Korea, a country with no constitution, court system, elections or free press. Outside of the metropolitan elite, most Eritreans must submit to a form of forced labor – lifelong military conscripts who have no choice about where they live or work. Any dissenters are sent to prison without any judicial recourse. Most walk over the border into Ethiopia or Sudan, a dangerous first step that sees some shot by border guards, begin a brutal journey through the Sahara to Libya, [where] they are held in smugglers’ compounds and usually tortured until their families send the $2,000 required for payment before the refugees are permitted to board a ramshackle boat to Italy from one of the country’s western ports.

Nigerians – 4% – Boko Haram, the Islamist extremist group, continues to fight an insurgency in northern Nigeria, killing and kidnapping locals and forcing many to flee. Other Nigerians are escaping from poverty. Most head over the northern border to Niger and join the smuggling trail to Libya, experiencing similar horrors to Eritreans crossing the desert from Sudan.

Somalians – 3% – Islamist insurgents, including al-Shabaab, are fighting an insurgency, with civilians caught in the middle. One popular route is through Kenya, Uganda and south Sudan. Then people head north to Sudan, where most follow the same route and adversities as the Eritreans. But a smattering of refugees now follow the Balkan route – into Kenya, fly to Iran, then cross the Iranian-Turkish border, before heading by boat to Greek islands.

Pakistanis – 3% – More than 1.2 million Pakistanis have been displaced by insurgencies in north-west Pakistan.  Like Afghans, Pakistanis walk into Iran, then take a bus to the border with Turkey, where they cross again on foot. They then pick up the Balkan route that begins on the Turkish coast.

Iraqis – 3% – Vast swaths of Iraq, including its second city, Mosul, have recently been conquered by Isis, worsening a nightmare that began with the west’s invasion of the country in 2003. Iraq borders Turkey, so most reach Turkey by land and then take boats to Greek islands.

Sudanese – 2% – Civil wars in the country’s Darfur and Kordofan regions continue to displace civilians. Darfur is still unsafe – a Human Rights Watch report recently alleged that the Sudanese government had carried out many killings and mass-rapes of civilians in dozens of towns. Sudanese refugees are smuggled to Libya, and then across the Mediterranean to Italy. Like Eritreans and Somalians, many die of thirst in the desert and fall victim to extortion and torture by smugglers in Libya.

[The Guardian – Statistical source: the UN refugee agency]


This entry was posted in , by Grant Montgomery.

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