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One million migrants and refugees reach Europe this year

International Organisation for Migration reports four-fold increase on 2014, in largest movement continent has seen since World War Two
The vast majority of people who reached Europe arrived in Greece by sea (AFP)

More than one million migrants and refugees have reached Europe in 2015, the International Organisation for Migration has said, in the biggest wave of mass migration in the continent since World War Two.

The joint study by the IOM and the UN's refugee agency, released on Tuesday, said 1,005,504 people had arrived through irregular means in Europe between 1 January and 21 December, the vast majority - 816,752 – of whom had arrived by sea in Greece.

The main gateways for refugees into Europe are the Greek islands of Lesbos and Kos which are situated across a narrow stretch of the Aegean from the Turkish mainland.

A total of 150,317 had arrived by sea in Italy, with smaller numbers reaching Spain, Malta and Cyprus. A total of 34,215 crossed by land routes, such as over the Turkish-Bulgarian border.

The report was released hours before eleven migrants including three children, drowned off the Turkey's Aegean Sea resort of Kusadasi as they attempted to reach Greece. Seven others were rescued, Turkish media reported.

The million-plus figure is four times the number of last year.

Half of the refugees crossing the Mediterranean were from Syria, 20 percent were from Afghanistan and seven percent from Iraq, the IOM said. Eritreans were another significant group fleeing to Europe.

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A total of 2,889 people died trying to cross from north Africa to Italy, while more than 700 died in the Aegean crossing to Greece from Turkey.

In a joint statement, the IOM and UNHCR said the number of people displaced by war and conflict is the highest seen in Western and Central Europe since the 1990s, when several conflicts broke out in the former Yugoslavia.

“As anti-foreigner sentiments escalate in some quarters, it is important to recognise the positive contributions that refugees and migrants make to the societies in which they live and also honour core European values: protecting lives, upholding human rights and promoting tolerance and diversity,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres.

“We know migration is inevitable, it’s necessary and it’s desirable,” added William Lacy Swing, director general of IOM.

“But it’s not enough to count the number of those arriving - or the nearly 4,000 this year reported missing or drowned. We must also act. Migration must be legal, safe and secure for all - both for the migrants themselves and the countries that will become their new home.”

The IOM-UNHCR study listed migrant arrivals in six European countries since 1 January.