The European Union’s 6 000-kilometre-long land border between Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, the Russian Federation and its eastern Member States (Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania) presents significant challenges for border control.
Overall the scale of irregular migration at all the eastern borders is much smaller than on any other migratory route into the EU and amounts to a fraction of a percent of the total. In 2016, fewer than 1 500 detections were reported, roughly in line with the average annual numbers recorded since 2008. About a quarter of these detections involved nationals from neighbouring countries, mostly Ukrainians, Russians and, to a lesser extent, from Belarus and Moldova. Most of them crossed the Polish and Romanian land border with Ukraine. The majority of these cases was associated either with smuggling or other reasons not related to migration.
For non-regional migrants, Vietnamese citizens mostly targeted the Latvian- Russian border, while Afghans were, by and large, detected at the Hungarian-Ukrainian section. Irregular migration was the main reason for crossing the border illegally for both Vietnamese and Afghans.
In 2015, a temporary route of illegal migration opened up between October and December: the so-called Arctic route through Russia over the land borders with Norway and Finland. About 6 000 asylum applicants were counted between October and December. Most were originally from Afghanistan and Syria. The main crossing point was Storskog, the only legal land border crossing between Norway and Russia, which saw 5 200 applications for asylum in 2015, compared to fewer than 10 the previous year. The flow also spread to neighbouring Finland. Migrants took to using bicycles to negotiate the border zone because pedestrian traffic is banned and drivers are fined if they give lifts to passengers without proper documents. By the end of December 2015, the Russian authorities begun refusing travellers the permission to transit their country without Schengen visas, thus stopping the flow.
Worth noting is the introduction of a series of local border-traffic agreements between Ukraine and its European Union neighbours (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia), which allowed holders of local border traffic permits to stay for up to 90 days per half-year. While it is difficult to perform control along the 30-50-kilometre non-demarcated zone where the agreements are in force, Member States reported only a few isolated breaches. In fact, most of the issues seem to concern small scale smuggling of excise goods. Along the Eastern land border, abuse of legal travel channels is more common than illegal border-crossing, mainly by citizens of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) including Georgians.
The biggest challenge on this route is smuggling of excise goods, such as cigarettes, alcohol and fuel, as well as stolen cars.
Disclaimer: Data presented refer to the number of detections of illegal border-crossing at the external borders of the European Union. Illegal border-crossings at the external borders may be attempted several times by the same person.
Illegal border crossings on the Eastern European Land borders in numbers.
For more information on this and other migratory routes, see Frontex Risk Analysis reports