Over one million migrants reach Europe in 2015: UNHCR

Migrants queuing up inside a tent outside the Berlin Office of Health and Social Affairs on Dec 1, 2015.
Migrants queuing up inside a tent outside the Berlin Office of Health and Social Affairs on Dec 1, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA (AFP) - More than one million migrants and refugees reached Europe in 2015, including over 970,000 who made the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said Tuesday.

The new figures, jointly released by UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration, listed migrant arrivals in six European countries since January 1, with the vast majority of people - 821,008 - landing in Greece.

Half of those who made it to Europe this year were Syrians fleeing their country's brutal civil war, the UNHCR said, underscoring the conflict's dominant roll in fuelling Europe's migrant crisis.

After Greece, Italy was next on the list, with 150,317 people reaching its territory this year, all by sea.

Bulgaria (29,959), Spain (3,845), Cyprus (269) Malta (106) rounded out the group.

"We know migration is inevitable, it's necessary and it's desirable," said IOM chief William Lacy Swing, "But it's not enough to count the number of those arriving... We must also act," he added, calling for "legal, safe and secure" migration for those forced to leave their home country.

The total number of arrivals by sea in 2014 was about 219,000, according to the UN.