Migrant crisis reaches new high in Europe, U.N. agency says

Refugees face tough winter weather ahead
Refugees face tough winter weather ahead

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Story highlights

  • More than 744,000 migrants have fled across Mediterranean to Europe this year
  • More than 3,400 have died or disappeared trying to make the journey
  • Some migrants now face possible hypothermia as winter nears

(CNN)More migrants fled to Europe last month than in all of last year, exacerbating an already dire situation for both refugees and host countries.

More than 218,000 migrants fled across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in October, the U.N. refugee agency said. That's more than the 216,000 who crossed into Europe in 2014.
    In all, more than 744,000 migrants have escaped to Europe this year.
    "The vast majority of those attempting this dangerous crossing are in need of international protection, fleeing war, violence and persecution in their country of origin," the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said.
    "Every year, these movements continue to exact a devastating toll on human life."
    Indeed, this year could also be the deadliest for migrants trying to cross into Europe.

    Extreme danger, desperation

    At least 3,440 have died or disappeared while attempting the journey so far this year, according to the UNHCR. Some 3,500 died or went missing at sea last year.
    Still, an endless stream of migrants sell their belongings to pay smugglers and board overcrowded, dilapidated boats in a desperate attempt to flee their homelands.
    The International Organization for Migration said there were seven fatal shipwrecks last week alone.
    Greece's Hellenic Coast Guard recovered 106 bodies in October, but many more migrants are reported missing.
    Even those who survive endure harrowing conditions.
    One African migrant reported surviving on toothpaste for days. A teenage Somali who made it to Malta told researchers that he had warned other family members not to come.
    "I tell them it's 95% sure that you will die," he said.

    Where they come from

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    Most of the migrants -- 64% -- are from Syria, where civilians are grappling with raining barrel bombs in the civil war and the infiltration of ISIS in their country.
    About 18% are from Afghanistan, 6% from Iraq and 5% Eritrea, according to the latest UNHCR figures.
    One Syrian father told CNN his family fled because he didn't want his children seeing bodies in the street anymore.

    Where they're going

    Many of the migrants coming from the Middle East and Africa have the same destination in mind: Germany.
    Germany has been the most welcoming country in the current crisis, saying it might take in 1 million migrants by the end of the year.
    But to get there, migrants typically cross the Mediterranean Sea and must travel through several countries, such as Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Austria before finally reaching Germany.
    The UNHCR said Greece alone has an average of 6,000 migrants showing up at its border every day.

    Brutal winter expected

    Human rights activists have warned that wintry weather is making the migrants' journeys more perilous.
    A UNHCR spokeswoman said freezing temperatures, rain and storms were already affecting migrants in central and southeastern Europe.
    "Winter will be especially tough for the many who are living in insulated garages, basements or unfinished buildings, animal stalls or other flimsy makeshift structures," spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said.
    At a Serbian border crossing last month, more than 2,000 people were stuck in "hellish conditions" as they waited to get into Croatia, another U.N. refugee official said.
    "We have families, pregnant women, small babies, the elderly, three generations of families, an old woman in a wheelchair. They are in a desperate situation," UNHCR spokeswoman Melita Sunjic said.
    "The weather is horrible. We need blankets, raincoats, food; they are standing in the mud and their shoes are falling apart. We have cases of hypothermia, too."