Who are the ‘others’?

Mixed migration on the Eastern Mediterranean route

According to UNHCR figures some 1,089 people arrived to Greece by sea in February 2017. This marks a significant decrease from the more than 57,000 arrivals reported in February 2016 on the Eastern Mediterranean route.

The proportion of Syrians using this route is similarly declining in comparison to other nationalities arriving in Greece. In 2015, Syrians made up 56% of the 856,723 refugees and other migrants who arrived by boat in Greece, while in 2016 they comprised 47% of the 173,450 person total for that year. The numbers continued to decline in 2017, and as of February, Syrians made up only 40% of total arrivals (2,482 people) in Greece.

Meanwhile, the category of ‘others’ represented only 16.1% of total arrivals in Greece in September 2016, according to UNHCR’s Greece Data Snapshots. Yet by the first two months of 2017, 37% of arrivals in Greece were attributed to ‘other’ nationalities (i.e. not Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan, Pakistani, or Algerian).[1]


UNHCR Operational Portal: Mediterranean Situation – Greece (Greece Data Snapshots)


As the proportion of Syrians has declined, the category of ‘others’ has been increasing: but who are these others?

In its publicly released data, UNHCR indicates a category of ‘other’ non-specified nationalities that includes all nationals of countries other than Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Algeria.[2] [3] The Turkish Coast Guard lists Syrian, Congolese, Pakistani, Afghan, Cameroonian, Eritrean, Malian, Turkish, Iranian, and Iraqi as the top apprehended nationalities in February, while IOM figures for January, indicate the top five nationalities arriving by sea in Greece were Syrian, Algerian, Congolese, Iraqi, and Kuwaiti. These sources give us an indication of the various nationalities that may be arriving in Greece, but the category of ‘other’ remains opaque.

The increasing proportion of ‘other’ nationals received by Greece reflects the shifting nature and mixed usage of the Eastern Mediterranean Route. Limited information about these ‘other’ groups make trends difficult to discern, particularly as the movements of some nationalities along this route may be more sporadic than others. For example, while the number of Pakistanis arriving in Greece dropped by nearly 83% between December and January, and Algerian arrivals dropped by 80% between January and February, other nationalities are using this route more frequently. For example the number of Turkish nationals claiming asylum in Greece has been on the rise since an attempted coup in July, with some 236 individuals reportedly claiming asylum in Greece between July and February. IOM’s report that people from Republic of Congo were the third largest group of arrivals in January may similarly indicate a growing trend in this nationality’s usage of the Eastern Mediterranean Route, though limited data make such a trend difficult to confirm.

The demographic breakdown, particularly by nationality, of those arriving by sea in Greece is shifting from month to month. This means that the protection needs and vulnerabilities of the arriving population are shifting too. If we are to better tailor humanitarian responses to the specific needs of vulnerable groups, organisations and agencies tasked with monitoring and registering arrivals need to better differentiate who is who in mixed migration flows. The category of ‘others’ is not enough.

For more information on this and other mixed migration issues in the Middle East, please access MMP’s February Mixed Migration Summary (available here).



[1] These figures are slightly different from those represented on the main page of UNHCR’s operational portal for Greece which reports on arrivals from Iran, but not Algeria, though the portal similarly indicates that ‘other’ groups comprised 36% of sea arrivals in Greece in January and February.

[2] Though Iran is included on the main page of the UNHCR Operational Portal: Mediterranean Situation – Greece.

[3] Some figures are available for a small number of Somali and Eritrean arrivals in 2015 though not in 2016 or 2017.