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Number Of Migrants Who Reached Europe This Year Tops 1 Million


By land or by sea, 1 million refugees and migrants have come to Europe this year. That's the most since the years just after World War II. The figure comes from the International Organization for Migration. William Lacy Swing is director general of the IOM, and he joins us from Geneva. Welcome to the program.

WILLIAM LACY SWING: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Of these 1 million people, what countries are they coming from?

SWING: The majority are coming from Syria. That's, after all, a five-year war. They're coming out of there in large numbers both from the refugee camps and from the internally displaced persons inside Syria. They're coming from Afghanistan and Iraq. They're coming from the Horn of Africa.

SIEGEL: That's where they come from. Who are they? What kind of people are they?

SWING: Well, a lot of the people traveling, frankly, are families, which means that you have a lot of women and a lot of children. I think there's still a majority of males - but many women, many children, many elderly and a number who have not really survived the trip very well.

SIEGEL: Mr. Swing, how many people does the International Organization for Migration figure have died trying to get to Europe?

SWING: Well, our latest figure is approximately 3,690 - those that we know about. We do not know how many people have died in the Mediterranean altogether, and we know even less about how many have died in the Sahara Desert and other parts of the world because this is a global issue. So we're trying to keep better figures because governments right now - most governments don't have any statistics on who dies along the migratory routes.

SIEGEL: You know, though, if you measure the number of deaths en route to that big figure of a million migrants and refugees entering Europe this past year, the odds that a potential migrants calculates are not that unfavorable. We're talking about four-tenths of 1 percent - half of 1 percent of people who don't succeed in making the voyage.

SWING: And that is precisely the calculation that a lot of migrants are making, saying, it's a risk worth taking. But still, these are lives that are being lost, and I'm very pleased that a lot of countries in Europe and elsewhere are now giving saving life the top priority which it has to be. You get in sort of a double jeopardy here because not only do people lose a loved one, but they cannot come to any kind of personal or even legal and financial closure because there is no body. You can't prove that they're dead, but they're gone.

SIEGEL: As you know, ever since the attacks in Paris, it has been claimed, certainly by some politicians in America, that the wave of migrants and refugees coming in from Syria includes some people who are indeed terrorists who are being infiltrated into the European Union. Are the methods by which people are screened adequate to guarantee that such people aren't getting into Europe?

SWING: In response, I can only say, I don't know of any category of people coming into our country or other countries who are more carefully screened than refugees. They go through an intense screening. So I think it is totally false and extremely risky to try to make any linkage between refugees, migrants and what's happened in places like Paris. That would simply inflict another tragedy upon the Paris tragedy by making these very people who are fleeing a conflict in terror into those who are carrying such with them.

SIEGEL: Mr. Swing, thanks for talking with us today.

SWING: Thank you very much for the opportunity.

SIEGEL: William Lacy Swing is director general of the International Organization for Migration. He spoke to us from Geneva. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.