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2016: A look at Europe's ongoing migrant crisis

Louisa Gouliamaki, AFP | Migrants protest on the Greek island of Chios on April 3, 2016.
6 min

The year 2016 saw the migrant crisis dominate headlines once again. From the controversial EU-Turkey deal to the closing of the Calais “Jungle”, FRANCE 24 looks back at the key events of the year.


January 1, 2016: More than 1,000 women were assaulted during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne, Germany. Suspicions turned towards Germany’s large refugee population. In the weeks that followed thousands of Germans protested against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “open-door” refugee policy. Although the majority of the New Year’s perpetrators were never caught, many of the identified suspects were migrants from Morocco and Algeria, though not part of the most recent wave of Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan migrants.

March 7, 2016: France’s first camp built to the standards of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees opened in the northern French town of Grande-Synthe. The camp was built in partnership with the mayor of Grande-Synthe and Doctors Without Borders, to house some 1,300 migrants who had been squatting in a muddy, unsanitary encampment nearby. The French government initially opposed the project, but is now running the camp and aims to close it.

March 20, 2016: A controversial deal between the European Union and Turkey came into effect, aimed at controlling the migrant crisis. Under the pact, Ankara would take back all illegal migrants who cross to Greece, including Syrians, in return for the EU taking in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and rewarding it with more money, early visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations. The deal continued to be a source of tension between the EU and Turkey throughout 2016.

April 2016: Following implementation of the EU-Turkey deal, migrant camps in Greece were turned into de facto detention centres. Over 3,300 people were held at the Moria centre on the island of Lesbos. Migrants who failed to register for asylum, or whose asylum requests were denied, were deported to Turkey. Clashes between police and migrants were reported in Chios and Moria in April. Doctors Without Borders had suspended its activities in Moria in March, citing what it called “unfair and inhumane” conditions.

May 24-26, 2016: Police evacuated the squalid Idomeni refugee camp in northern Greece near the Macedonian border, which at its height housed more than 12,000 people. In the space of three days, migrants were transferred by bus from Idomeni to newly created camps in the industrial outskirts of Greece's second city, Thessaloniki. The camp had exploded in size after Balkan states began closing their borders in February to stem the tide of migrants trying to pass from the Mediterranean to northern Europe.

June 20, 2016: The UN reported that the number of refugees and internally displaced people worldwide had reached its highest point ever, surpassing the previous record seen during WWII. The UN Refugee Agency reported that there were a record 65.3 million displaced people around the globe in 2015   or 24 people displaced every minute   up 10 percent from the year before.

August 216: The first ever Refugee Olympic Team competed in the summer games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The team of 10 athletes included runners, swimmers and judokas from Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. One of them, 18-year-old Yusra Mardini, had swum for her life through the Aegean Sea during her escape from Syria. The refugee team were given a standing ovation during the games opening ceremony.

October 26, 2016: The UN refugee agency reported that at least 3,800 migrants had died in the Mediterranean Sea since January in an attempt to reach Europe, making 2016 the deadliest year on record in the Mediterranean. As of December, at least 4,690 migrants have died in the Mediterranean in 2016, compared to 3,777 in 2015.

October-November 2016: French police moved over 5,600 migrants out of the Calais "Jungle" camp in northern France, hoping to close the camp permanently. The migrants, who included hundreds of unaccompanied minors, were bussed to shelters throughout France before the “Jungle” was bulldozed. French authorities reported that the camp’s population had reached record levels during the summer before its demolition.

November 10, 2016: France’s first official refugee and migrant shelter opened in Paris, with space for 400 single men. Migrants spend up to 10 days at the site where they receive medical care and advice on seeking asylum before being transferred to a "Welcome Centre" elsewhere in France. The centre was part of the French capital’s ongoing drive to clear thousands of asylum-seekers out of improvised camps on the capital’s streets.

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