As 2015 entered into its final days, the European refugee crisis has hit one of its most sobering milestones to date, prompting humanitarian groups to demand global leaders make a major reassessment of the situation.
The number of refugees to have journeyed to Europe by sea alone has topped 1 million since the beginning of the year, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Aid agency Oxfam says this amounts to a “global immigration crisis.”
"The real issue here is a global migration crisis that is not being adequately addressed,” said Natalia Alonso, Head of Oxfam's European Union office. “The international community's response must address both root causes and the needs of people caught up in the resulting migration - we need to support people in both the long and the short term.”
"The European Union needs to guarantee the safety of those who have fled conflict and political instability to seek refuge in Europe.”
According to Alonso, it is now the task of the European Union to assume responsibility for the displaced people who have often overcome the perils of conflicts in their own countries, as well as the journey to reach what they perceive as safety.
"The European Union needs to guarantee the safety of those who have fled conflict and political instability to seek refuge in Europe,” said Alonso. “Everyone has the right to protection and safety, and under international law we are also committed to providing that safety to refugees feeling conflict and political turmoil. Providing them with the chance to rebuild their lives is our way of making a huge difference."
At least 80 percent of the over 1 million refugees landed in Greece, for the most part on the island of Lesbos, the U.N. agency said.
PHOTO GALLERY: The Human Face of Europe's Refugee Crisis
Some 844,000 made the voyage to Greece from Turkey, about four kilometers away. Others, at least 150,000, traveled over the Mediterranean from Libya in North Africa to Italy.
The number of refugees to lose their lives or still to be missing in the crossing of the Mediterranean has reached 3,735. The figure has been pulling steadily upwards since a series of disasters resulting in the drowning of thousands from the beginning of the year.
Almost half of those making the treacherous voyage are Syrians, and the country’s intensifying civil war there resulting in mass displacement has meant the number of sea arrivals has spiked by four times in 2014, when 216,000 came in on barely-sea worthy vessels.
"Increasing numbers of refugees and migrants take their chances aboard unseaworthy boats and dinghies in a desperate bid to reach Europe," the U.N. refugee agency said on its website. "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."
On Dec. 21 the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that the total number of refugees arriving by both land and sea had reached more than 1,006,000.
The crisis is widely viewed as Europe’s worst since World War II.
In spite of harsh weather conditions, refugees continue to arrive by the boatload. With so many people to process and borders closed or tightened across Europe and Baltic nations, bottlenecks have formed and many refugees face cold nights without shelter.