Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) Migration is once again becoming a big topic in Europe. The first thing that naturally comes to mind is the vast influx of refugees coming to EU countries due to the war in Ukraine. Fortunately, Europe, including the Czech Republic, manages the arrival of several million refugees well, although those numbers are significant.
Nevertheless, I would like to focus on a slightly different matter, linked to migration but very rarely mentioned, another massive challenge for Europe, which remains on the margins of interest. Little is said about it now, but the latest figures show that Europe is starting to have a problem once again in dealing with irregular migration from non-European countries.
A sharp increase in cases
According to data from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), the number of irregular EU border crossings last year was the highest since 2016. Around 330,000 irregular border crossings were detected in 2022, constituting the highest figure since 2016 and a 64% increase yearly. The highest increase was recorded on the routes from the Western Balkans (+136%) and the Eastern Mediterranean (+108%).
After a low in 2020 caused by the pandemic, last year was the second in a row with a sharp increase in the number of irregular entries into the EU. Almost half of the irregular migrants chose the Western Balkan route. Syrians, Afghans, and Tunisians accounted for nearly half of the detected cases (47%). The number of Syrians roughly doubled to 94,000.
It is also worth noting that women accounted only for less than a tenth of the detected cases. The proportion of minors was similarly low, falling slightly to approximately 9%. In other words, the vast majority of those exposed were male adults.
45% of all irregular entries in 2022 were via the Western Balkan states. These were primarily people from Syria, Afghanistan, and Tunisia. This means that irregular entries rose by 136% in comparison to 2021. 145,600 irregular border crossings were reported on the Western Balkan route.
This is the highest number of crossings reported on this route since 2015, when the migration crisis culminated. Simultaneously this record number from 2015 is just less than a half of all recorded irregular entries in 2022. Citizens of Syria, Afghanistan, and Turkey accounted for the majority of detected cases. Nationalities rarely seen before on this route have also been reported, such as Tunisians, Indians, or people of Burundian origin.
In Italy, on the central Mediterranean route, the number of detected cases increased by more than a half to 100,000. These people were mainly Egyptians, Tunisians, and Bangladeshis. The region has seen the most Libyans since 2017 and Tunisians in recent history.
In the eastern Mediterranean, i.e., the route through the territory of Greece, the number of irregular entries increased by 108%. In 2022, about 42,800 cases of irregular border crossings were detected. The most common nationalities here were Syrians, Afghans, and Nigerians.
The decline elsewhere did not reverse the trend.
On the contrary, a decrease in migration pressure last year was recorded in the route through the western Mediterranean, i.e., through Spain. This meant a yearly decline by the fifth, with 14,582 detected cases. 80% of illegal migrants came from North West African countries. However, a significant increase was found in number of people coming from sub-Saharan Africa and Syria.
On the West African route, which goes through the Canary Islands, there were 15,460 arrivals in 2022, which is 31% less than in 2021. More than two-thirds of the detected migrants came from Morocco and various sub-Saharan states.
However, the decline on those two routes could not alter the upward trend elsewhere. More than 71,000 illegal border crossings into UK were detected in the English Channel, including both attempted and successful crossings. Those were mostly people from the Middle East, Albania, and the Horn of Africa.
We cannot do without Frontex
The EU and Schengen countries faced significant challenges in the past two years at their external borders. In addition to the mentioned irregular migration routes, the state-organized migration promoted by Belarus in 2021 is worth mentioning here. These events and the ever-increasing number of illegal crossings from countries outside Europe demonstrate the need for solid and efficient European border and coast control.
Nobody wants 2015 to repeat, especially in the current situation, when Europe has to solve many other pressing problems. We must, therefore, address increased uncontrolled migration from non-European countries with a firm response.
Frontex plays an extremely important role in all areas of the EU’s external border protection. In the last year, Frontex conducted approximately 20 operations at the EU external borders with an average of 2,000 permanent corps officers.
Frontex provided assistance to member states facing illegal migration, and it did an incredible job in managing the aforementioned crises, but also situations in Poland and Lithuania when Belarus deliberately sent illegal migrants to neighboring Poland and the Baltics in order to destabilize the situation in Europe.
It was again Frontex that helped Lithuania with border security and Poland with organizing the return of illegal migrants to their countries of origin. Frontex thus has an unquestionable share in managing the entire crisis. The activities of Frontex are often overlooked. However, there can be no doubt about the enormous merits and neccessity of this agency in successfully dealing with illegal migration. If the situation surrounding irregular migration continues to deteriorate, Frontex‘s importance will grow even more.