Half a million migrants and refugees are known to have entered the European Union during the first eight months of 2015; that number may increase to more than one million before the year is through. This figure does not include individuals who got into the EU undetected.
A total of 364,183 migrants entered the European Union by sea between January and August, compared to 280,000 for the whole of 2014, according to updated statistics published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on September 3, 2015.
Of the total maritime arrivals, 245,274 arrived in Greece, 116,649 in Italy, and 2,166 arrived in Spain. The top countries of origin are: Syria, followed by Afghanistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Albania, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Iraq.
In addition, 132,240 migrants are known to have arrived in the European Union during the first seven months of 2015 by land, crossing from Turkey into Greece and Bulgaria, according to Frontex, the EU's border management agency. The top three countries of origin are: Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Germany and Sweden are the final destinations of choice for most migrants, lured by the generous benefits they can claim and the governments' message that refugees are welcome in unlimited numbers.
If sustained indefinitely, the open-door immigration policies could draw potentially millions of Muslims into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa.
Every European country is being affected by the migration crisis in one way or another. What follows is a brief survey of developments in selected countries.
In Austria, Chancellor Werner Faymann said he would end an emergency measure that allowed more than 10,000 migrants and refugees in Hungary to enter the country unhindered. "We have always said this is an emergency situation in which we must act quickly and humanely," he said. "We have helped more than 12,000 people in an acute situation. Now we have to move step-by-step away from emergency measures towards normality."
Only 20 of the 12,000 people who crossed the border during the weekend of September 5-6 applied for asylum in Austria. The rest have already moved on to the more generous Germany. In addition to receiving free clothing, food, housing and healthcare, migrants in Germany also get a monthly cash payment of €143 ($160), compared to only €40 ($45) per month in Austria.
Meanwhile, six people — five Bulgarians and an Afghan with Hungarian residency — have been arrested in connection with the deaths of 71 migrants whose decomposing bodies were found in the back of an abandoned truck on August 27. Police believe the truck, which was left on the side of an Austrian highway, entered into Austria from Hungary. The truck owner is a Bulgarian citizen of Lebanese origin.
In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron on September 7 announced plans to accept 20,000 Syrian refugees during the next five years. Just days earlier, he said the UK had already taken in enough refugees. Cameron's position is said to have changed after British newspapers published photographs of the body of a Syrian child washed up on a Turkish beach.
Since then, a petition calling on the government to accept more refugees has garnered more than 400,000 signatures, well above the 100,000 threshold needed to allow for a debate in Parliament.
The petition states: "There is a global refugee crisis. The UK is not offering proportional asylum in comparison with European counterparts. We can't allow refugees who have risked their lives to escape horrendous conflict and violence to be left living in dire, unsafe and inhumane conditions in Europe. We must help."
Thousands of economic migrants have attempted to enter the UK illegally through the Channel Tunnel, a 50 kilometer (31 mile) rail tunnel between France to Britain.
In Bulgaria, five jihadists posing as refugees were arrested on August 28 while trying to cross the border at Gyueshevo, one of three checkpoints along the Bulgarian-Macedonian border. Police became suspicious after the five men, Albanians aged between 20 and 24, attempted to bribe the border guards with 175 euros ($195) each. A subsequent search found that the men were carrying Islamic State propaganda, including videos of decapitations.
In the Czech Republic, authorities assigned migrants with numbers, which they wrote on the migrants' arms and hands with a felt-tip pen. The government said many migrants had no documents and did not speak English, and that this method was the best way to track them. The move was widely criticized because of its connotations with the Jewish Holocaust, when the Nazis tattooed numbers on everyone they sent to concentration camps.
In Denmark, Andreas Kamm, the secretary general of the Danish Refugee Council (Dansk Flygtningehjælp), warned that the current refugee crisis could lead to total collapse of European society. In an interview with the newspaper Jyllands-Posten, Kamm said he believes that Europe is facing "a total Armageddon scenario." He added:
"We are experiencing a historical imbalance between the very high numbers of refugees and migrants and the global capacity to provide them with protection and assistance. We are running the risk that conflicts between the migrants and local populations will go awry and escalate. The answer cannot be that Europe imports surplus populations. We cannot be required to destroy our own society."
Danish Finance Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen said: "I'm most indignant over the Arab countries who are rolling in money and who only take very few refugees. Countries like Saudi Arabia. It's completely scandalous."
The Danish government has placed ads in Lebanese newspapers aimed at deterring potential migrants. "Denmark has decided to tighten the regulations concerning refugees in a number of areas," say the ads, which warn that Denmark recently passed legislation, cutting benefits by up to 50% for newly arrived refugees.
On September 6, Danish police stopped 150 refugees who began marching towards the border with Sweden, known for its more generous asylum policies. The group was among 300 refugees who arrived in Rødby, a busy ferry crossing between southern Denmark and Germany. Scuffles broke out with police when some ran off to avoid having their fingerprints taken, in fear they would be registered as seeking refuge in Denmark and unable to go on to Sweden.
On September 8, Danish police sent back a group of economic migrants who had arrived from Germany. "These are people who do not want to seek asylum and are therefore here illegally. They have been deported and barred from re-entering the country for two years," police in southern Denmark said in a statement. "This first group was a score of people. More will follow after their cases are processed," the statement said, adding that they were sent back by bus.
In Finland, Prime Minister Juha Sipila offered to do his part to alleviate Europe's migration crisis by announcing that Muslim refugees could stay at his unused summer cottage in Kempele, a small town just 184 kilometers (114 miles) south of the Arctic Circle. Average temperatures in Kempele are below the freezing point six months out of the year and the town does not (yet) have a mosque. "I hope this becomes some kind of people's movement that will inspire many others to shoulder part of the burden in this refugee housing crisis," Sipila said on state television.
Sipila made his offer one day after his government doubled its estimate for the number of asylum seekers in Finland in 2015 to 30,000. Just two weeks earlier, his government had lifted the estimate to 15,000, which was 10,000 higher than previous estimates. The figures compare to 3,600 asylum seekers in 2014.
During the first five months of 2015, the majority of asylum seekers in Finland — which is stuck in a three-year recession — were economic migrants, not refugees fleeing war zones. According to the Finnish Immigration Service, the top ten countries origin countries for migrants to Finland were: Iraq, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Russia, Albania, Nigeria, Syria, Morocco and Algeria.
Meanwhile, some 200 Finns in Salo, home of the once-dominant Nokia cell phone maker, protested against the opening of a reception center for refugees in the town. Demonstrators in the central square shouted slogans such as, "Close the borders" and "Islam will destroy us." One protestor said: "Finns need to be helped first. Everything has been taken from the unemployed, the poor and the sick. But the coffers are empty. If these centers open, our taxes will go up."
In France, President François Hollande agreed to take in 24,000 migrants during the next two years. A September 5 poll published by Le Parisien showed that 55% of French voters are opposed to an easing of rules for migrants asking for refugee status, including Syrians fleeing civil war.
The vice president of the anti-immigration National Front party, Florian Philippot, accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of encouraging migration to Europe so that German industry would be supplied with "slaves."
"Germany needs cheap slaves to supply its industry," Philippot said during a speech at a gathering of the National Front in Marseille. "Her proposals to impose migrant quotes are only logical: to serve the cynical interests of German capitalism. The only objective is to bridge the demographic deficit as cheaply as possible."
In Germany, the number of asylum seekers entering the country in a single month surpassed the 100,000 mark for the first time ever. A record 104,460 asylum seekers arrived in August 2015, bringing the cumulative total for the first eight months of 2015 to 413,535. Germany expects to receive a total of 800,000 refugees and migrants this year, a four-fold increase over 2014.
German officials say that 20,000 migrants and refugees arrived in the country during the weekend of September 5-6. Another wave is expected to arrive within the next few days.
The German government will spend €6 billion ($6.7 billion) to cope with the influx of refugees. State and local governments will receive €3 billion for housing the refugees, and the central government will allocate another €3 billion for benefits for the new arrivals.
Hundreds of Muslim refugees are converting to Christianity, apparently in an effort to improve their chances of having their asylum applications approved. Under Islam, Muslims who convert to Christianity are guilty of apostasy, a crime punishable by death. The "converts" apparently believe that German immigration officials will allow them to stay in Germany if they can be persuaded that they will be killed if they are sent back to their countries of origin.
Muslim migrants have clashed among themselves upon arrival in Germany. On August 19, at least 20 Syrian migrants staying at an overcrowded refugee shelter in the eastern German town of Suhl tried to lynch an Afghan migrant after he tore pages from a Koran and threw them in a toilet.
More than 100 police officers were called in to restore order, but when they arrived they were attacked with stones and concrete blocks. Seventeen people were injured in the melee, including 11 refugees and 6 police officers. The Afghan is now under police protection. The president of the German state of Thuringia, Bodo Ramelow, said that Muslims of different nationalities should be housed separately to avoid similar violence in the future.
In Greece, troops were deployed to the Aegean island of Lesbos, following clashes between migrants and police. More than 15,000 migrants and refugees have arrived on the island, an entry point into the European Union. Migrants are upset over delays in the registration process that has left them stranded on the island, unable to continue their journey to other countries in northern Europe. Scuffles have also broken out between Syrians, who are granted priority in the vetting process, and Afghans, who are forced to wait much longer.
In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán proposed sending in the military to seal the country's southern border with Serbia. He said:
"We'll bring the border under control step-by-step. We'll send in the police, then, if we get approval from parliament, we'll deploy the military. It's not 150,000 migrants coming that some want to divide according to quotas, it's not 500,000, a figure that I heard in Brussels, it's millions, then tens of millions, because the supply of immigrants is endless."
A spokesman for Hungary's center-right government, Zoltán Kovács, said the EU's response to the migration crisis has been a total failure. He said:
"It [the EU] does not differentiate between those who are in real need of help. Genuine refugees are pushed together with economic migrants. We are not facing a refugee crisis, we are facing a migration crisis. People are coming here from a hundred countries around the world. It is completely unacceptable that illegal means of movement are now institutionalized."
Hundreds of migrants, eager to leave Hungary for the promised land of Germany, were filmed confronting police and refusing food and water. One migrant was asked why he doesn't want to stay in Hungary. He replied: "[Hungary is] not giving us like in Germany... a house, money..."
In Iceland, population 330,000, more than 12,000 families offered to open their homes to migrants in a bid to raise the government's cap of just 50 asylum seekers per year. They responded to a call by Bryndís Björgvinsdóttir, an activist who set up a Facebook page calling on the government to allow ordinary Icelanders to help.
Referring to the refugees, Björgvinsdóttir wrote:
"They are our future spouses, best friends, the next soul mate, a drummer for our children's band, the next colleague, Miss Iceland in 2022, the carpenter who finally finishes the bathroom, the cook in the cafeteria, a fireman and television host. People of whom we'll never be able to say in the future: 'Your life is worth less than my life.'"
In Italy, an 18-year-old asylum-seeker from the Ivory Coast named Mamadou Kamara was accused of murdering an elderly couple in Sicily. Kamara, who was rescued in the Mediterranean Sea on June 8 and brought with other migrants to the port of Catania in Sicily, allegedly broke into a home in the nearby village of Palagonia and slit the throat of Vincenzo Solano, 68, during a robbery that turned violent. His Spanish-born wife, Mercedes Ibañez, 70, fell to her death from a second-floor balcony. Police say Kamara stole a laptop computer, a video camera and a mobile telephone from the couple's home.
Center-right politician Giorgia Meloni said: "The instigator of the murder of these two innocents is the Italian state, which is responsible for having kept open a migrant facility... which we said should be closed down."
In Macedonia, police scuffled with thousands of migrants trying to cross into the country from Greece. Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki said:
"In the last several days there has been a dramatic increase of inflow of migrants and we have reached numbers of 3,000 to 3,500 per day which obviously is not something a country of two million people and our resources can handle on a daily basis. We had to reinforce the control of illegal entry of Macedonian territory."
Hundreds of Muslim migrants shouting "Allahu Akbar" ("Allah is Greater") rejected Red Cross meals distributed by Macedonian troops because the food is not halal, or legally permissible according to Islamic Sharia law.
In the Netherlands, the government announced new rules that would cut off food and shelter for migrants who fail to qualify as refugees. Failed asylum seekers would be limited to "a few weeks" shelter after being turned down. If they do not agree to return home, they would be deported.
The UN's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination criticized the Dutch policy. It said that the basic needs of migrants should be provided unconditionally. Prime Minister Mark Rutte responded by saying that it would be "crazy" to offer permanent shelter to people who refused to leave. "We are talking about the group that can go back," he said, "whose governments would take them back, but they do not want to go back."
In Norway, dozens of migrants are arriving via the Arctic Circle. Up to 20 migrants a month are trekking to the far north of Russia and then crossing into the tiny Norwegian town of Kirkenes, which lies around 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) north of Damascus.
According to border agreements, it is illegal either to cross the border on foot or to give a lift to someone without papers — a problem Syrian refugees have sidestepped by using bicycles.
"There is no reason to believe that this will stop," Hans Møllebakken, chief of police in Kirkenes, told Norway's VG newspaper. "The fact is, if you have money, you can get from Damascus to Storskog in under 48 hours: This is the fast track to Schengen."
In Slovakia, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Ivan Netik, said that his country will only accept Christians when it takes in Syrian refugees under an EU relocation scheme. Speaking to the BBC, Netik said:
"We want to really help Europe with this migration wave but we are only a transit country and the people don't want to stay in Slovakia. We could take 800 Muslims but we don't have any mosques in Slovakia so how can Muslims be integrated if they are not going to like it here?"
In Spain, the newspaper El País reported that most asylum seekers see Spain as nothing more than a "stop on the road" to Germany. Many move north after their six months of free financial assistance runs out. "Many of those who reach Spain leave as soon as they can for countries with more generous aid," the paper reported. "They know there are no jobs here, and that the existing structure cannot cover everyone's needs."
The central government in Madrid has placed limits on the amount of aid available, but more than 50 provincial and municipal governments in Spain are now providing migrants with housing and free health care.
Police on September 7 fired rubber bullets at migrants in a detention center in Valencia after more than 50 of them tried to escape. On August 16, at least 35 migrants escaped from a holding facility in Algeciras. On August 15, eight migrants escaped from a detention center in Murcia.
In Sweden, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven on September 6 addressed a pro-refugee rally in Stockholm in which he urged Swedes and other Europeans to do more for migrants. He said: "We need to decide right now what kind of Europe we are going to be. My Europe takes in refugees. My Europe doesn't build walls."
An Schibsted/Inizios opinion poll produced for the newspaper Aftonbladet found that 66% of Swedes were prepared to help refugees, but 48% said they have little or no confidence in the government's approach to the crisis.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis on September 6 called on all Catholic parishes and monasteries in Europe each to house one refugee family. He said the Vatican's two parishes would lead by example. According to one calculation, "There are about 122,000 Catholic parishes in Europe, according to a study conducted by Georgetown University and published in June. If each of them housed one refugee family consisting of three to four people, about 360,000 to 500,000 refugees could be accommodated in the coming months."