European refugee crisis. 2015-2016

European refugee crisis is a period beginning in 2015 when rising numbers of people arrived in the European Union, traveling across the Mediterranean Sea or overland through Southeast Europe. These people included asylum seekers, but also others, such as economic migrants and some hostile agents, including Islamic State militants disguised as refugees or migrants.

Most of the migrants came from Muslim-majority countries of regions south and east of Europe, including Western Asia, South Asiaand Africa. By religious affiliation, the majority of entrants were Muslim (usually Sunni Muslim), with a small component of non-Muslim minorities.

The number of deaths at sea rose to record levels in April 2015, when five boats carrying almost 2,000 migrants to Europe sank in the Mediterranean Sea, with a combined death toll estimated at more than 1,200 people. The shipwrecks took place in a context of ongoing conflicts and refugee crises in several Asian and African countries, which increased the total number of forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2014 to almost 60 million, the highest level since World War II.

Amid an upsurge in the number of sea arrivals in Italy from Libya in 2014, several European Union governments refused to fund the Italian-run rescue option Operation Mare Nostrum, which was replaced by Frontex’s Operation Triton in November 2014. In the first six months of 2015, Greece overtook Italy as the first EU country of arrival, becoming, in the summer 2015, the starting point of a flow of refugees and migrants moving through Balkan countries to Northern European countries, mainly Germany and Sweden.

Since April 2015 the European Union has struggled to cope with the crisis, increasing funding for border patrol operations only in the Mediterranean, devising plans to fight migrant smuggling through initiatives such as the military Operation Sophia, and proposing a new quota system both to relocate asylum seekers among EU states for processing of refugee claims to alleviate the burden on countries on the outer borders of the Union, and to resettle asylum seekers who have been determined to be genuine refugees.

Individual countries have at times re-introduced border controls within the Schengen Area, and rifts have emerged between countries willing to allow entry of asylum seekers for processing of refugee claims, and other countries trying to discourage their entry.