How the refugee crisis evolved in 2015

2015 saw the greatest movement of people fleeing their homes because of war and conflict, since the end of the Second World War.

The year was marked by a string of tragic events that made the dire situation hard to ignore. But there was also action to ease the crisis.

Here’s a look back at some of the events stories that shaped a year in which refugees and migrants became an important topic across Canada.

800+ dead after boat capsizes in Mediterranean

An already staggering number of people had arrived in Europe by April when a rickety boat crammed with refugees and migrants, capsized between Libya and the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The world was on track to record the greatest number of maritime migrant deaths when this disaster took place, leaving at least 800 people dead at sea.

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Their deaths contributed to the grim record-breaking toll of 3,692 people who died in the Mediterranean Sea (as of Dec. 22), which is 400 more than last year according to the International Organization for Migration.

Of the now more than one million refugees and migrants who streamed into Europe since the start of 2015, at least 971,000 risked their lives at sea to do so, the IOM reported.

Body of Alan Kurdi washes ashore

The limp, lifeless body of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi lying face down in the tide on a Turkish beach defined both the desperation and the urgency of the refugee crisis. The Syrian toddler drowned along with his mother and 5-year-old brother when their boat capsized in Aegean Sea.

The image, captured by a Turkish journalist on Sept. 2 fuelled international calls for action on the worsening crisis.

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But the story would hit closest to home in Canada. It was soon learned the surviving member of Alan’s family, his father Abdullah, had a sister living in B.C.

Tima Kurdi had sent the family money for the short boat trip to the Greek islands off the coast of Turkey — the gateway for hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe.

Abdullah went back to Syria with the bodies of his wife and two young boys. But on Dec. 28, his brother Muhammed and his family — who had already sought asylum in Germany — arrived in Vancouver as privately-sponsored refugees and will now start a new life in Canada.

WATCH: Family of Alan Kurdi reunited in Vancouver

Since Alan’s death, more than 100 other children are believed to have drowned in the waters of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas trying to make that same voyage to Europe.

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READ MORE: 4-year-old Syrian girl found washed up on Turkish coast, latest in dozens of child deaths

8-year-old migrant boy smuggled in suitcase

Border officials in the Spanish North African enclave of Ceuta thought a young Moroccan woman was trying to smuggle drugs in her small, pink suitcase when she began acting hesitant about going through customs.

But when the suitcase passed through the X-ray machine, the officials discovered an 8-year-old boy curled up inside.
Adou, as the boy was later identified, was from the Ivory Coast.

Police in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta disvoered 8-year-old boy, identified as Abou, inside a suitcase. Guardia Civil handout via Twitter

His father, who lived and worked in Spain’s Canary Islands, paid the young woman to smuggle his son into the Spanish territory so they could be reunited. But, it was later reported the father didn’t know his son would be stuffed in a suitcase to be taken over the border.

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READ MORE: Migrant found curled up in car hood trying to get to Spanish territory

A grisly discovery in Austria

Greece has overwhelmingly been the point of entry for boatloads of people being smuggled into Europe — some 871,000 this year, according to the International Organization for Migration. But once on European turf, they flow towards wealthier countries in northern and western Europe — countries inside the visa-free travel zone known as the Schengen Area.

As some countries tried to disrupt the flow of people, some refugees and migrants turned to smugglers to traverse Europe.

On Aug. 27, police in Austria opened the doors of abandoned refrigeration truck, parked on the side of a road connecting Budapest to Vienna, and found dozens of dead and decomposing bodies stacked inside.

WATCH: Austria human trafficking deaths leads to more arrests. Aarti Pole reports.

When officials finally removed them all, the body count was 71 — many of them identified as coming from countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Just a week later, 81 people escaped a similar fate by breaking out of a truck carting them into Austria.

Canada begins resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees

With his new government in power, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet got to work on their commitment to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015.

It soon became clear that goal would not be met and even the augmented target of 10,000 by Dec. 31 (and a total of 25,000 by the end of February) would not be achievable.

READ MORE: Canadians recall their refugee past as they help Syrian families

In terms of numbers, the commitment pales in comparison to the volume of refugees and migrants Germany has taken in over the past 12 months — registering more than one million people claiming asylum.

But it was the arrival of Syrian refugees in Canada, greeted by Trudeau at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, that set a different tone on welcoming refugees.

WATCH: “Welcome to your new home:” Justin Trudeau greets Syrian refugees arriving in Canada

While many Canadians didn’t approve of Trudeau’s resettlement plans, the government’s decision to bring in more refugees made international headlines at a time when other countries were seen as turning their backs.

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With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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