An estimated 302,149 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration, a significant drop-off from last year when there had already been more than half a million by this time.
But that doesn’t mean that the crisis has abated. Fatalities among Mediterranean refugees currently stand at 3,501, up from 600 at this time last year, with 2016 on pace to be the deadliest year yet.
Most of the drop-off in arrivals is the result of a deal struck between the EU and Turkey, under which the Turkish government agreed to take steps to prevent refugees from reaching Greece and the Balkans in exchange for aid to deal with the massive refugee population within its own borders and other concessions. Since the deal, which was heavily criticized by human rights groups for leaving migrants stranded in Turkey and the Middle East went into effect, daily arrivals in the EU have dropped from 1,700 before the deal was implemented in March to about 85 in June. Since Friday, the IOM has recorded only 51 arrivals in Greece.
However, traffic on the much more dangerous Central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy is nearly unchanged since last year and accounts for the vast majority of the fatalities, including the 29 killed when a boat carrying 600 capsized off the coast of Italy last week. This is less a matter of migrants shifting from one route to another than that the central route has been unaffected by recent policy changes. The number of refugees and migrants stranded in Greece and the Western Balkans is also up 50 percent since March, when the EU-Turkey deal went into effect.
The deaths of refugees may once have stirred the compassion of the public in Europe, but with the crisis dragging on and anti-immigrant parties gaining ground throughout the EU, changes in policy seem unlikely. The European Commission stated Tuesday that the emergency border checks set up by several countries in the union are still necessary, even if the number of arrivals is down. Europe has resettled just 4,500 of the 160,000 refugees that were meant to be shared among European countries under a deal reached last year. The rest remain stranded in camps. Adding to the mess, Hungary appears almost certain to reject participation in the resettlement scheme in a referendum this weekend.
The United States, meanwhile, has actually exceeded the fairly paltry goals it set for admitting Syrian refugees last year, and the Obama administration has pledged to admit 110,000 total refugees in the next 12 months. Unfortunately, the crisis itself shows little sign of abating any time soon. The collapse of this month’s attempted cease-fire in Aleppo will only add to the number of people fleeing Syria, and the planned upcoming battle to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS is expected to uproot more than a million people.
This problem isn’t going away.