UN expects 700,000 migrants in Europe in 2015, same in 2016; Germany took in 200,000 in Sept

Migrants wait for their registration outside the State Office of Health and Social Affairs (LAGeSo) in Berlin on Oct 1, 2015.
Migrants wait for their registration outside the State Office of Health and Social Affairs (LAGeSo) in Berlin on Oct 1, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (AFP/REUTERS) - The United Nations refugee agency said on Thursday (Oct 1) that it was expecting 700,000 migrants and refugees to reach Europe via the Mediterranean sea this year and projected at least the same amount again in 2016, as German lawmakers said the country took in more than 200,000 migrants in September.

"UNHCR's response is now based on the assumption that up to 700,000 people will seek safety and international protection in Europe in 2015, and possibly even higher numbers in 2016," the agency said, issuing a revised funding appeal.

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards confirmed that the figures specifically referred to people expected to seek refuge by crossing the Mediterranean.

The agency had previously projected 350,000 arrivals in 2015, but those figure had not been updated in many months.

Overall, the figures show that the agency expects no let up in the waves of people making the perilous sea crossing to escape conflict and strife in the Middle East and Africa.

On Tuesday, UNHCR said 520,000 people had arrived on Europe's shores since Jan 1. Some 2,980 people have perished or disappeared trying to make the crossing.

More than half of those to have reached Europe this year were Syrians fleeing the country's brutal civil war, which has forced at least four million people to leave their homeland and internationally displaced more than 7.6 million others.

The 2015 figures and the projections for 2016 mark a major surge compared with last year, when the agency recorded 219,000 migrant and refugee arrivals in Europe by sea.

The more than 200,000 migrant arrivals in September for Germany is a new record that is likely to fuel the debate about how many newcomers Europe's most populous country can absorb.

Germany's mainstream parties initially backed Chancellor Angela Merkel's warm welcome for refugees but the mood has turned more critical, with practical worries about how to feed and house so many people setting the tone.

"In September alone, we registered more refugees than for the whole of last year," Mr Stephan Mayer, a lawmaker from the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) party, told Parliament on Thursday, putting the figure at over 200,000.

His CSU colleague Joachim Herrmann, the Bavarian interior minister, said up to 280,000 may have entered German territory last month.

The CSU is the sister party of Dr Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), who rule in coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).

Germany expects as many as 800,000 migrants to come to the country this year alone - around 1 per cent of the current population - and Bavaria in the south of the country is where many of them are crossing the border.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told Parliament on Thursday that there was a limit to how many migrants Europe can accept, but he did not set a figure on it.

Germany was "trying damned hard" to distribute the migrants around the country and find them accommodation, he said.