Irregular migration into the European Union has fallen to its lowest annual level since 2013, the European border and coast guard agency has said, despite a significant increase in the number of arrivals to Greece.
Frontex said that according to preliminary figures for 2019, irregular crossings detected on the bloc’s external borders fell by 6% to just over 139,000 – about 92% down on the record number set during the 2015 European migration crisis.
The decline was primarily due to significant falls in the numbers of people reaching European shores via the central and western Mediterranean routes, the agency said, while the eastern Mediterranean route saw a corresponding increase.
About 14,000 people, mostly from Tunisia and Sudan, used the central Mediterranean route from north Africa – mainly Libya – to Italy and Malta, a 41% decline. Those taking the western Mediterranean route, mostly Moroccans and Algerians crossing into Spain, dropped by 58% to 24,000.
But the eastern Mediterranean route into Greece saw “growing migratory pressure” from spring until September, Frontex said, with more than 82,000 irregular migrants detected on the route in 2019 – a 46% increase on the previous year.
The agency said arrivals via this route during the second half of last year were at their highest level since the EU signed its 2016 agreement with Ankara aimed at limiting the influx of irregular migrants entering the EU through Turkey.
There was also evidence that some people who had been transferred to the mainland from the Greek islands, where conditions in overcrowded camps are appalling, later moved on to the western Balkans. The number of irregular migrants detected on the EU’s Albanian and Serbian borders was more than double last year’s total.
Overall, Afghan nationals accounted for almost a quarter of all irregular arrivals in 2019, Frontex said, almost three times as many as in the previous year. There were also more women and children than in recent years.