The First Refugee Victim Of 2016 Is A Stark Look At How The Crisis Continues Into The New Year
A 2-year-old boy who drowned Saturday off the coast of the Greek island Agathonisi when the overcrowded dinghy he was traveling in from Turkey encountered high winds that smashed it into rocks has become the first known refugee casualty of the new year, the Hellenic Coast Guard said Sunday. The boy, whose name was Khalid, was identified by a rescue aid organization.
The dinghy's other 34 passengers, including the boy's mother and a 3-month-old infant found to have hypothermia, were rescued without incident, the charity organization Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) reported. "Nothing can prepare you for the horrific reality of what is going on," Christopher Catrambone, MOAS' founder, said in a statement. "Today we came face to face with one of the youngest victims of this ongoing refugee crisis. It is a tragic reminder of the thousands of people who have died trying to reach safety in miserable conditions."
Seemingly undeterred by the "very unfavorable" winter conditions reported by the coastguard in the Aegean Sea, the influx of refugees fleeing to Europe to escape conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq has not appeared to lessen in the early days of 2016. Greece's coast guard reported 217 refugees were rescued in the first three days of the new year, the Associated Press reported.
"Despite the onset of winter, it is not anticipated that these movements will decrease," the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in its Winterization Plan for the Refugee Crisis in Europe, referencing the estimated 1 million refugees who came to Europe by sea. "For those continuing to arrive in Europe, progressively harsh wet and cold winter conditions will only exacerbate the already existing hardships, and may result in further loss of life if measures are not taken urgently."
The UNHCR estimates an average of 5,000 refugees could arrive by boat from Turkey per day from November 2015 to February 2016. Lured by dreams of economic opportunity, many will continue on and attempt to enter countries in northern Europe.
More than 3,800 refugees died in 2015 while trying to enter European countries.
As European Union leaders continue to butt heads over how, where, and even should migrants be welcomed and resettled, the overall strategy appears to have (unsuccessfully) refocused on attempting to discourage refugees and migrants from journeying out of camps. Efforts to divide the responsibility of resettlement equally amongst all EU members have gone nowhere, with only an estimated 200 refugees relocated since the crisis began, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The heavily-guarded border checkpoints and temporary fences in many European nations contrast sharply to Germany's open-border policy on refugees and have brought a political polarization that shows no immediate sign of being resolved into the EU.
With peace not likely to be negotiated in either Syria or Iraq in the immediate future and many of the Middle East's conflict-torn countries facing a daunting road to economic recovery, 2016 is not likely to provide a quick or simple solution to the refugee crisis.