Number Of The Week: Migrants En Route To Europe

Number Of The Week: Migrants En Route To Europe

10:47am Apr 26, 2015

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Twenty-five thousand eight...


Time now for some number crunching from our data expert Mona Chalabi from She has given us this number of the week.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Thirty-five thousand.

MARTIN: That is the number of asylum-seekers and migrants who have arrived by boat in Southern Europe so far in 2015. Mona Chalabi joins us from our studios in New York. Hi, Mona.


MARTIN: So a week ago, big news story - this boat capsized off the Libyan Coast as it was trying to cross the Mediterranean; a huge tragedy. It was estimated that at least 700 people died. It's being called the worst disaster of its kind. So, Mona, you used to think about these issues a lot. You used to consult for the International Organization for Migration.


MARTIN: You have been looking at these migration routes now. Can you tell us about this particular journey? How dangerous is this migration route?

CHALABI: It's a really dangerous route. So according to the IOM, last year, 3,200 migrants died at sea trying to get to Italy, but lots were also rescued. Altogether, over 150,000 migrants were rescued in 2014 by either the Italian Navy, its Coast Guard or commercial ships who had been contacted by the Italian authorities to help out in emergency situations like this. Lots of people also make it to the other side, though. Almost as many arrived in Italy as were rescued at sea last year.

MARTIN: So, I mean, these numbers are staggering. I mean, thousands of people making this journey.


MARTIN: Are more people attempting to make this particular crossing now than they were in years past?

CHALABI: Yeah, it's risen a lot. So that 35,000 number that you heard at the start refers to to asylum-seekers or migrants that actually managed to cross the Mediterranean so far this year. And that's almost twice as many people now as the same time last year. But I just want to take a second quickly to kind of explain these terms, asylum seeker and migrant...


CHALABI: ...Because they're really different, and they're often confused. So the term asylum-seeker is actually really specific. If refers to someone who says that they're a refugee, but whose claim hasn't yet been definitively evaluated by authorities. But the word migrant is far more ambiguous. It's just anyone who kind of moves to a foreign country for any reason.

MARTIN: OK, so the numbers are going up.



CHALABI: So according to the head of the IOM in Italy, the rising pressure they've seen is down to conflicts and instability in a number of countries. And we can look at what those countries are. So last year, tens of thousands of migrants that crossed the Mediterranean came from Syria and Eritrea, but there were also thousands from Mali, Nigeria, Gambia, Palestine and Somalia.

MARTIN: OK, so we've kind of focused on this one particular route from North Africa to Italy by boat on the Mediterranean. But aren't there other routes to Europe?

CHALABI: Absolutely. There are lots of different routes people can take, and I'm looking at information here at Frontex, which is the EU's boarder agency. And what they do is they map out the eight major migration routes that people take to get to Europe. And what's interesting here is that while traveling across the Central Mediterranean might be the most dangerous route - it's actually described as the deadliest according to the UN - it isn't the most frequently traveled one, so far this year at least. So in the Western Balkans, there were over 32,000 of what Frontex describe as illegal border crossings in the first three months of 2015 alone. Most of those people were coming from Kosovo. Another major route that doesn't really get talked about very much is the Eastern Mediterranean one. And that's migrants who cross through Turkey to the EU via Greece, Southern Bulgaria or Cyprus.

MARTIN: I mean, you can imagine, Mona, that these people are fleeing sometimes war, they're taking everything they can with them. How much does it cost? I mean, how much do they have to pay to make this journey?

CHALABI: It's really hard to know 'cause, obviously, this is a clandestine activity. But there is some research here. And specifically, it comes from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. They describe how the amount of money that changes hands partly depends, obviously, on how dangerous the route is, but also how much money those migrants have. Poorer migrants may opt for something they describe as a pay-as-you-go package, which I know sounds really strange, but it's the UN's wording here. Those are migrants who kind of pay bit by bit for different parts of the journey to different smugglers.

There are more comprehensive package deals - again a kind of strange wording, but it's the one the UN uses. And those package deals can be quicker, safer and have a higher guarantee of success, but they can also be considerably more expensive. On this one particular route, the IOM has suggested that some unscrupulous smugglers using larger cargo ships might be charging migrants between $4,000 and $6,000 to cross the Mediterranean. And the UN reckons that the overall smuggling industry from East, North and West Africa to Europe generates about $150 million in revenue. Now, those financial incentives as well as the desperation that you describe of people living their countries means that these kind of dangerous migration methods probably won't stop any time soon.

MARTIN: Mona Chalabi of Mona, thanks so much.

CHALABI: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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