Pope Francis urges nations to take in as many migrants as possible

A massive influx of migrants to Europe over the past few years has left thousands drowned and caused deep tensions between nations over how to handle the huge number of arrivals.

With key EU leaders to hold crisis talks on migration in Brussels on Sunday, here is a look back over the main developments since 2011.

2011 to 2014: Surge with Syria at war

The surge in migrant numbers starts in 2011 and steadily increases until 2014 when 280,000 arrive, four times more than the previous year. Most land in Italy and Greece.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says more than 3,500 people, fleeing war and misery, died at sea in 2014 alone, mainly in the central Mediterranean.

The conflict in Syria, which started in March 2011, leads to a massive exodus of people, mostly to camps in neighbouring countries.

The UNHCR says in October 2014 that just over 144,630 Syrians had requested asylum in the EU since 2011, with Germany and Sweden shouldering the burden.

It says in June 2014 that 2.5 million people had fled Syria. By April 2018 this figure is at more than 5.6 million, according to the UNHCR website.

2015: More than one million migrants

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says 1,047,000 migrants arrived by sea in Europe in 2015, of whom around 854,000 went to Greece and 154,000 to Italy.

The increase is due to the raging Syrian conflict and a deterioration in living conditions in refugee camps.

On April 19, 2015 the worst Mediterranean disaster in decades takes place when up to 800 people, mainly from West Africa, die after their crammed fishing boat capsizes in Libyan waters.

In 2015 nearly 3,800 deaths at sea are registered by the UNHCR.

The war in Syria is credited with kick-starting a wave of migrant movement towards Europe

In late summer of 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel decides to open Germany’s borders to migrants. Some 890,000 arrive over the year and she comes under strong criticism from many of her EU partners.

Central and eastern EU nations such as Hungary and Poland refuse outright or resist taking in refugees under an EU quota system.

At bursting point, Germany reestablishes border checks, suspending free movement in the EU. Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, all transit countries, follow suit.

Hungary and Slovenia, the main entry points to the passport-free Schengen zone, put up fences.

Asylum demands peak with 1.26 million demands in the EU in 2015.

2016: Accord with Turkey

The EU and Turkey sign a controversial deal in 2016 aimed at stemming the migrant flow to the Aegean Greek islands.

Combined with the closure of the so-called Balkans route, the flow drops sharply as Turkey boosts its coastal patrols.

Arrivals in Europe fall in 2016 to 390,000, according to the IOM.

2017: Italy on the frontline

As the route via Greece and Turkey dries up, Libya becomes the main migration route and Italy the main entry point to Europe.

The trend is reversed radically from July 2017 due to accords struck by Rome with the Libyan authorities and militias.

After these accords, which involve support to the Libyan coastguards, the number of arrivals in Italy drops by more than 75 percent.

2018: Political crisis in EU

In Italy, which has seen around 700,000 migrants arrive since 2013, an anti-migrant coalition including the far right is sworn in to government in June.

It refuses to allow the Aquarius rescue ship carrying 630 migrants to dock on its shores; the migrants are taken in by Spain on June 17, after a turbulent week at sea.

The case leads to political recriminations and heightened tensions within the EU, particularly between Rome and Paris.

In Germany, hardliners in Merkel’s conservative bloc on June 18 give her an ultimatum to tighten asylum rules or risk pitching Germany into a political crisis that would also rattle Europe. 

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