Migratory Routes

The stretch of the Mediterranean Sea between North Africa and Italy has been used for hundreds of thousands of migrants in recent years, although it saw a major fall in the number of detections of irregular migrants since the summer of 2017.


Situation in 2018

In 2018, the Central Mediterranean route experienced the biggest drop in the number of irregular migrants. The total number of irregular border crossings plunged 80% on this route to 23 485, the lowest number since 2012.

Tunisia replaced Libya as the main country of departure for migrants detected on the Central Mediterranean route in the final quarter of 2018. Departures from Libya have fallen by 87%, while departures from Algeria fell by almost half.

Tunisians and Eritreans were the two most represented nationalities on this route, together accounting for more than one third of all detected migrants.


Situation in 2017

The sudden plunge in the number of irregular migrants reaching Italy in mid-2017 was arguably the most significant development at the external borders of the EU since the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement in March 2016. After the monthly totals in the first half of 2017 roughly mirrored those seen a year earlier, the figures dropped suddenly starting in July. In all of 2017, the number of irregular migrants detected on this migratory path stood at nearly 119 000.


Trends prior to 2017

In 2016, 181 376 migrants were detected on the Central Mediterranean route, which was the highest number ever recorded in the region. Most of the migrants departed from Libya, where well-established smuggling networks took advantage of various groups vying for control of the country.

The Central Mediterranean route was also under intense migratory pressure in 2015, although the total number of migrants arriving in Italy fell to 153 946 - about a tenth lower than in 2014.

For more information on the Central Mediterranean Route, see our risk analysis report for 2019.

Frontex supports Italy with Operation Themis. Read more about the operation.


Illegal border crossings on the Central Mediterranean route (including Apulia and Calabria) in numbers.

As of October 2014, the data for the Central Mediterranean route include the data for the Apulia and Calabria route. Indeed many migrants are disembarked in Apulia and Calabria even though they have been detected in the Central Mediterranean area. However, the current reporting mechanism does not break down by areas of detections, but by areas of disembarkation, thus a distinction of detections between these two routes is not available.

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