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Not Since WW II Has There Been A Deadlier Year For Migrants


This year was the deadliest for migrants and refugees since World War II. More than 7,000 migrants died or went missing worldwide. That is about 20 a day. The most lethal crossing was the Mediterranean. William Lacy Swing is director general of the International Organization for Migration, and he joined us from Geneva. Thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

WILLIAM LACY SWING: Delighted to be here. It's a real honor.

GREENE: In 2016, the number of people who arrived by sea in Europe was far less than the year before, and yet there's been this spike of fatalities. Why is this journey becoming so much more perilous now?

SWING: It's a fact, exactly as you say, although the numbers have gone down, the number of deaths have gone up. We're at the level of 5,000 now in the Mediterranean. There are many more bodies obviously submerged in the Mediterranean or in the Sahara desert that we don't have any record of. It's partly because, I think, the boats of the smugglers are worse than they were before. They're making even more money. There's a degree of desperation now because we have armed conflict pushing more people out, so abject poverty's not gotten better. So the root causes are there and probably not getting better.

GREENE: Well, if the root causes are still there, even though we have a greater number of deaths, we have fewer people actually crossing to Europe. Are fewer people trying to get in, or they are they getting bottled up somewhere and not reaching Europe?

SWING: I think Europeans have put in place a number of measures that have stemmed the flow, and they've had some effect. There's been an EU-Turkey agreement. They have put more ships onto the Mediterranean. So all of that together has led to what we have now.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you about a specific case. We had this attack on the Christmas market in Berlin. The man who drove that truck through the market arrived by boat in Italy in 2011. It's given some credence, it seems, to people who claim that terrorists could use the mass migration to cover up and reach Europe. I mean how would you tell a citizen of a European country or a leader who doesn't support migration that they should not look at that as really troubling?

SWING: Well, it's - it's a horrible thing that occurred there, and we've all condemned it roundly. We all have enormous respect and regard for the vision that Chancellor Angela Merkel has shown to address the migrants coming north. And I think had she gotten support from some of the other 27 members of the European Union, the number in Germany has been perfectly manageable and would have made it less likely that such an incident would occur.

GREENE: You're actually saying that the German security might be weaker right now because other countries have not worked with Chancellor Merkel to figure out a comprehensive policy, or what?

SWING: No, I'm simply saying that if you take, say, 1.5 million who came north - one half a percent of the population of the European Union - had that been more equitably handled with other countries participating, the burden would have been shared.

GREENE: Will this crisis let up any time soon?

SWING: I would simply pose the question differently and say, have the root causes changed, which they have not. Then it's likely to continue because you not only have the demographic imbalances, you have an unprecedented series of humanitarian emergencies. And all of that is going to continue to cause people to move. So we've got to find a way to deal with the final stage of globalization, which is the globalization of migration. And that's the most difficult one.

GREENE: All right. William Lacy Swing is director general of the International Organization of Migration. Thanks so much for talking to us.

SWING: Thank you very much sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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