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Europe struggles with unprecedented migrant flux
03:30 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: An IOM official blames "gangs involved in shipping migrants" for Mediterranean Sea deaths

A new German plan would prohibit asylum seekers from bringing in relatives for at least two years

There's a plan to send new migrants in Greece back by ferry, have EU states take in 250,000 in Turkish refugee camps

CNN  — 

Europe’s migrant crisis is getting worse – with more people trying to escape to new homes via the Mediterranean Sea, more dying as a result and more countries, including some long welcoming to refugees, taking fresh steps to control the influx.

The International Organization for Migration reported Friday that more than 55,500 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean into Europe in the first 28 days of January. This after a year in which more than 1 million migrants were “irregular arrivals” in Europe.

Others, though, did not make it. IOM counted 3,722 people dead or missing in 2015 in the same area. So far this year, 244 are known to have died in the Mediterranean, most when attempting to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece, and at least 15 more have died after reaching European shores.

“Deaths on this route are increasing at an alarming rate,” group spokesman Joel Millman told reporters Friday.

The continued throng of refugees only increases pressure on European policymakers to do something about it.

Thus far, the response has been all over the place – with some nations generally opening their doors to refugees while others, like Hungary and Slovenia, literally erecting walls and fences to keep them out.

Refugees on mud, misery and hope

Germany to tighten rules for asylum seekers

Germany has long been seen as among the most friendly, having committed to accepting 800,000 migrants in 2015, far more than any other European country. But, beset by criticism surrounding mass robberies and sex assaults on New Year’s Eve in Cologne and elsewhere, even Berlin is tightening up.

German authorities later identified 18 asylum-seekers among the suspects in mass muggings and gropings in Colgone, including nine Algerian nationals, eight from Morocco, five from Iran and four from Syria, Interior Ministry spokesman Tobias Plate said. A spokesman for the Cologne prosecutor’s office, Ullrich Bremer, later said some suspects were in Germany illegally in addition to those asylum-seekers.

Those attacks spurred a vigorous debate about Germany’s migrant policy, with German officials like Chancellor Angela Merkel vowing firm, swift justice.

Among other things, Germany’s Justice Ministry announced new legislation to allow it to more easily deport migrants found guilty of crimes causing death or serious injury, sexual or physical assaults, or resisting police officers.

And on Thursday, Merkel announced what’s referred to as “Asylum Package II” on Thursday. This draft law, which her Cabinet should have in its hands shortly, tightens Germany’s rules for people seeking asylum.

Three nations – Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria – will be deemed “safe,” according to Merkel, meaning migrants from there are immune to the changes. Those coming from other countries, though, will face new policies such as a two-year ban on those granted limited refugee protection from bringing their families to Germany.

“Asylum Package II contains important regulations, [including] to speed up the asylum procedure and to reduce existing deportation challenges,” said Johannes Dimroth, a spokesman for Germany’s Interior Ministry. “The agreement on the [law] is therefore welcomed, without reservation.”

‘Increased ruthelessness’ of people smugglers

Few places in Europe have escaped the migration crisis. People have flooded the continent from nations ravaged by years of war, such as Iraq and Syria, where most citizens have been forced from their homes, or beset by rampant poverty like parts of parts of North and East Africa. In many places, migrants have run from persistent violence and real fears about getting food and getting by.

Every day, there are reminders not only of the dangers these fleeing migrants faced back home, but the perils of trusting smugglers and boarding crowded, rickety boats to escape.

mediterranean migrant deaths

Those latter dangers were once again evident Wednesday evening, when a vessel capsized between Turkey and Greece. Greek authorities learned about the sinking after a man made it ashore in Kokkari, on the north coast of Greece’s Samos island, and claimed he’d escaped from the sinking boat.

By Thursday morning, they’d managed to rescue 10 migrants though several others still remained missing. Millman, from the IOM, said the 26 migrants confirmed dead so far in this incident were all Iraqi Kurds. Ten of the dead were children.

“[All these deaths are] happening because of increased ruthlessness of gangs involved in shipping migrants,” the spokesman said.

migrant deaths worldwide

EU plan: Send migrants back, take in others from Turkey

The Netherlands, which currently holds the European Union presidency, is proposing to send at least some of the fleeing migrants back

Specifically, the Dutch want those arriving on Greek islands – more than 850,000 last year, according to the IOM – to be put on ferries immediately and transported to Turkey. In return, European Union states would take in up to 250,000 refugees a year currently being held in Turkish camps, said Dutch Labor Party spokesman Tim Leeuwerke on Friday.

Many countries acknowledge that they, too, will have to reject asylum-seekers. In itself, this is not unusual: On any given year, countries traditionally reject a significant portion of those seeking asylum. Still, the numbers on all counts are higher now.

Finland, for example, expects to expel around 20,000 of the 32,000 asylum-seekers it received last year, a spokesperson for that nation’s Interior Ministry told CNN on Friday.

Even Germany – whose open doors helped Merkel earn the honor of TIME magazine’s 2015 Person of the Year – has seen a change since the New Year’s Eve attacks in Cologne, Hamburg and elsewhere.

It’s one of several nations, along with France and the United Kingdom, that have seen upticks in support for anti-immigration parties as fear over migration has grown. That fear, said IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle, “is contagious.”

And it was on display earlier this month in the eastern German city of Leipzig, where crowds of protesters chanted “Deport them!” and held up signs that read, “Islamists not welcome.”

One banner showed the silhouette of a woman running from a mob and read, “Rapefugees not welcome.”

5 examples of ‘backlash against migration’

CNN’s Nic Robertson, Nadine Schmidt, Lindsay Isaac, Dominique Heckels and Don Melvin contributed to this report.