The vast majority arrived by sea but some migrants have made their way over land, principally via Turkey and Albania.
Winter has not stemmed the flow of people – with 135,711 people reaching Europe by sea since the start of 2016, according to the UNHCR.
The conflict in Syria continues to be by far the biggest driver of migration. But the ongoing violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, abuses in Eritrea, as well as poverty in Kosovo, are also leading people to look for new lives elsewhere.
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Why Europe and why now?
Europe is the closest safe, prosperous and accessible region to the Middle East and Africa. Some Middle Eastern countries—such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey—have taken in millions of refugees but are already overwhelmed and lack resources to take in more.
The crisis now engulfing Europe began slowly in 2011 after the failed Arab Spring, when Tunisians risked their lives to cross the Mediterranean on rickety fishing trawlers to get to the Italian island of Lampedusa. The fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya emboldened desperate sub-Saharan Africans to attempt the perilous passage from Libyan shores in far greater numbers.
Where are migrants going?
Although not all of those arriving in Europe choose to claim asylum, many do. Germany received the highest number of new asylum applications in 2015, with more than 476,000.
But far more people have arrived in the country – German officials said more than a million had been counted in Germany’s “EASY” system for counting and distributing people before they make asylum claims.
Hungary moved into second place for asylum applications, as more migrants made the journey overland through Greece and the Western Balkans. It had 177,130 applications by the end of December.
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How do migrants get to Europe?
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that more than 1,011,700 migrants arrived by sea in 2015, and almost 34,900 by land.
This compares with 280,000 arrivals by land and sea for the whole of 2014. The figures do not include those who got in undetected.
The EU’s external border force, Frontex, monitors the different routes migrants use and numbers arriving at Europe’s borders and put the figure crossing into Europe in 2015 at more than 1,800,000.
Most of those heading for Greece take the relatively short voyage from Turkey to the islands of Kos, Chios, Lesvos and Samos – often in flimsy rubber dinghies or small wooden boats.
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