Balkan Migrant Route Still Active Despite Falling Numbers – Frontex

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New report by EU border agency says falling number of migrants using Western Balkan Route was more than matched by surges across the Mediterranean, explaining a 17-per-cent rise in detections compared to 2022.

According to the most recent data published by Frontex, the European Union’s agency for border control, the Central Mediterranean and Balkan Routes are the two most active routes taken by migrants and refugees to enter the European Union.

The data overview, published on Tuesday, including all the irregular border crossings at the EU’s external borders detected in 2023, says the Western Balkan route remains the second-most used route, with 99,068 irregular crossings detected. However, that number was a 31-per-cent decrease compared to the number in 2022.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Mediterranean Route, from Turkey to Greece, including Bulgaria and Northern Cyprus, saw a significant rise in irregular crossings – of 55 per cent – making a total of 60,073.

On the EU’s total external border, Frontex detected some 380,000 irregular crossings – a significant jump compared to 2022, mainly due to a rise in arrivals via the Mediterranean region.

“This marks the highest level since 2016 and constitutes a 17% increase from the figures in 2022, indicating a consistent upward trend over the past three years,” the agency’s press release said.

The Central Mediterranean was the most active migratory route into the EU, accounting for 41 per cent of irregular crossings, followed by the Western Balkans (26 per cent) and Eastern Mediterranean (16 per cent), Frontex said.

Syrians accounted for over 100,000 irregular crossings last year, the highest number among all nationalities. They were followed by Guineans and Afghans. These three top nationalities accounted for over a third of all detections.

An interesting aspect of the report is the change in the language used by Frontex. After years of advocacy by migrants’ rights groups, the report ditched the term “illegal crossings” and has instead opted for the adjective “irregular”.

The previous term contrasted with the right to cross the borders to seek asylum, as recognised in the Geneva Convention signed in 1951.

Frontex currently has 2,500 EU border guard officers and other staff taking part in its joint operations at Europe’s borders.

During 2023, a new Frontex mission started in Moldova, and joint operations were launched in North Macedonia. In October, the agency proudly announced that it carried out first-line border checks at a border outside the European Union for the first time, on the border between Moldova and Ukraine. During the year it launched several pilot projects in South Eastern Europe.

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