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IMMIGRATION

Migrant count in Europe tops million: UN agency

More than one million migrants and refugees reached Europe this year, including over 970,000 who made the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, the Geneva-based UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.

The new figures, jointly released by the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), listed migrant arrivals in six European countries since January 1st, with the vast majority of people — 821,008 — landing in Greece.
   
A total of 3,692 migrants died or disappeared crossing the sea, IOM said.
   
“The number of people displaced by war and conflict is the highest seen in Western and Central Europe since the 1990s,” the UNHCR said, referring to the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia that decade.
   
Half of those who made it to Europe this year were Syrians fleeing their country's brutal civil war, the UNHCR said, underscoring the conflict's dominant role in fuelling Europe's migrant crisis.
   
Afghans made up 20 percent of the group, while seven percent of arrivals were Iraqis.
   
After Greece, Italy received the second highest number of migrants, with 150,317 people reaching its territory this year, all by sea.
   
This marked a slight declined from 2014, when 170,000 people landed in Italy after crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.
   
Rounding out the group of European countries that saw migrant arrivals in 2015 was Bulgaria (29,959), Spain (3,845), Cyprus (269) and Malta (106).
   
“We know migration is inevitable, it's necessary and it's desirable,” said IOM chief William Lacy Swing,
   
“But it's not enough to count the number of those arriving . . . we must also act,” he added, calling for “legal, safe and secure” migration for those forced to leave their home country.
   
The total number of arrivals by sea in 2014 was about 219,000, according to the UN.
   
Reflecting on the last 12 months, the UNHCR criticized the “initial chaotic reaction” in parts of Europe to the flood of migrants, but applauded signs that a more coordinated response was now emerging.
   
But a unified EU position remains elusive, with Hungary and Slovakia having made threats of legal action against the bloc's controversial plan to distribute 160,000 refugees across the bloc.

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IMMIGRATION

Amnesty decries Swiss asylum centre abuse

Minors and adults housed in Swiss asylum centres have faced serious abuses at the hands of security staff, including beatings and chokeholds, Amnesty International warned Wednesday.

Amnesty decries Swiss asylum centre abuse
An asylum centre in the Alpine village of Realp, Central Switzerland. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

In a report, the rights organisation’s Swiss chapter detailed “alarming abuse” in the country’s federal asylum centres, and called for urgent government action to address the problem.

The report documents a range of abuses by staff of the private security companies Securitas and Protectas, which had been contracted by Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).

Amnesty said it had spoken with 14 asylum seekers, including two minors, who reported having faced abuse from the security officers between January 2020 and April 2021, along with 18 current and former security agents and other witnesses.

The asylum seekers described being beaten and physically restrained to the point where they could not breathe or fainted.

Some also complained about trouble breathing after being doused with pepper spray, and being locked in a metal container in freezing temperatures.

The report found that six of the alleged victims had to be hospitalised, while two said they had been denied the medical assistance they had requested.

“In addition to complaints about physical pain, mistreatment and punitive treatment, these people also voiced concerns about (security staff’s) hostility, prejudice and racism towards the residents,” said Alice Giraudel, a lawyer with Amnesty’s Swiss branch.

Such attitudes had seemed to target people of North African origin in particular, she said. Some of the abuse cases, Amnesty said, “could amount to torture”, and would thus violate Switzerland’s obligations under international law.

In a media statement, the SEM said it took the criticism “very seriously”, but rejected the suggestion that abuses were taking place in a systematic manner in federal asylum centres.

It stressed that there was no acceptance for “disproportionate constraint” of asylum seekers, and vowed to “sanction all improper behaviour.”

Giraudel hailed that the SEM had recently announced it would open an external probe into isolated abuse allegations.

But, she insisted, the situation was alarming and required the government to stop looking at allegations of abuse as the work of “a few bad apples”.

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