Most irregular-migration indicators collected within the FRAN community decreased be-tween the last quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012. For instance, detections of illegal border-crossing continued to decline for the third successive quarter to the lowest level since data collection began. Most of this downward trend was due to changes at the sea border, whereas in contrast detections of illegal border-crossing at the external EU land border were actually higher in Q1 2012 than in most other first quarters. Other significant declines included refusals of entry, which also fell to the lowest level since data collection began. The only exception to this suite of decreases was increased detections of facilitators of irregular migration, which contrasts against a steady decline in reports of this indicator over the last two years.
Throughout most of 2011, detections of illegal border-crossing into the EU were dominated by disparate events on both the Eastern and Central Mediterranean routes. However, during the first quarter of 2012, detections on the Central Mediterranean route fell to pre-Arab Spring levels with little more than 1 500 detections, but with increasing numbers of migrants from Somalia. Also, independent third-country monitoring identified Libya as a country with medium but increasing risk of irregular migration to the EU and so there re-mains considerable risk in the Central Mediterranean region. Despite seasonal decreases on the Eastern Mediterranean route, in Q1 2012 detections were still some 25% higher than during Q1 2011, totalling over 8 000 detections and nearly two-thirds of the EU total. Correspondingly, on the Western Balkans route detections were 50% higher than during Q1 2011, as the flow was dominated by detections of non-European migrants, most of whom originally entered the EU via the East-ern Mediterranean route. During 2011 the Western Mediterranean route steadily be-came increasingly important but in Q1 2012 detections fell to a level broadly comparable with the same period in 2011.
Overall in Q1 2012, the migrants most commonly detected illegally crossing the external border of the EU were also the nationalities with the most significant increases compared to a year ago in Q1 2011; migrants from Afghanistan (+22%), Bangladesh (+150%), Algeria (+40%) and Somalia (+77%). As the rate of increase was lowest for the top nationality, the total share of detections of Afghan mi-grants fell from 26% at the end of 2011 to just 16% during the first quarter of 2012. Also no-table at the EU level were increased detections of migrants from Syria compared to a year previously (+467%), and far fewer Pakistanis (-82%) than were reported in recent months. Most nationalities associated with the Arab Spring, were detected in much lower numbers at the sea border compared to the beginning of 2011, particularly Tunisians, Egyptians and Algerians.
On the Eastern Mediterranean route, the in-creased detections of illegal border-crossing compared to the situation a year ago, were almost exclusively (96%) at the land border. Irregular migration in this region has followed a strong seasonal pattern almost mirroring that of previous years, with the first quarter of each year recording the lowest, and the third quarter the highest, detections in each year. Given its undisputed status as the hot-spot for irregular migration into the EU in Q1 2012, nationalities that contributed to the in-crease in this region compared to a year previously, were similar to those at the EU level: Afghans (+42%), Bangladeshis (+175%), Syrians (+476%), and Somalis (+238%).
According to interviews conducted under JO Poseidon Land Extension 2011, many detected Afghan migrants did not travel directly from their home country but were instead previously resident in Iran, having left after per-missions to work were no-longer renewed. Given the large number still resident there, there is no reason to expect that this flow, the most significant of any to the EU, is likely to be reduced in the foreseeable future. For a short period in late 2010, many Algerian mi-grants started taking low-cost flights to Istanbul and then crossing the land border into Greece. This flow resumed during Q1 2012, rendering Algerians the third most-detected nationality both on this route and in the EU as a whole.
In the presence of widespread seasonal de-creases, only three nationalities were detected in significantly higher numbers compared to the previous quarter: Bangladeshis, Syrians and Somalis. The sharp increase in detections of migrants from Bangladesh, now ranked second at the EU level, was due to individual, (usually) male workers seeking employment in Greece having departed from the Persian Gulf following reductions in their earning potential in that region. In contrast, Syrians were detected in large groups, including some families, in Greece and the Western Balkans region, reflecting escalating conflicts in their home country where the situation is tantamount to civil war; according to independent third-country analyses, Syria is clearly of both critical and increasing risk of irregular migration to the EU. Migrants from Somalia were detected in increasing numbers in the Italian Pelagic Islands and Malta, often having taken six months to travel from Somalia to Tripoli, where intelligence suggests several thousand Somalis are currently residing. Each of these three flows show significant signs of increasing in the short term.
In recent quarters we reported a sharp in-crease in detections of migrants from Pakistan. However, In Q1 2012 Pakistani migrants were detected in much lower numbers. These young male migrants were targeting the EU for employment opportunities but having been unsuccessful, many are now returning home voluntarily or being effectively re-turned from Greece.
As Greece is a Schengen exclave and rarely a final destination, many migrants were detected for the second time as they made secondary movements to other EU Member States. For example, nearly all of the nationalities detected at the Greek land border with Turkey were also increasingly detected throughout the Western Balkans region (except Bangladeshis, who have Greece as a final destination) where in Q1 2012 detections of illegal border-crossing were 50% higher than year ago. In contrast detections of mi-grants landing in the Italian regions of Apulia and Calabria fell to their lowest level in over a year, suggesting that the Western Balkans was the preferred route for secondary movements, at least during the first quarter of the year. The Western Balkans is also an increasingly important region in terms of cross-border crime, particularly the smuggling of vehicles out of the EU via Slovenia.
The number of asylum claims rose during nearly every quarter of 2011 but in the cur-rent reporting period applications fell by 25% compared to the previous quarter, to a level that was broadly comparable to a year ago in Q1 2011. Asylum applications tend to drop at the beginning of each year but this drop was of significant magnitude. Unsurprisingly nearly all Member States reported fewer applications in Q1 2012, compared to the previous quarter, particularly Austria (-80%), but the top three reporting Member States received more applications than during the same period in 2011: Germany (+10%), Sweden (+23%), Switzerland (+63%). The most significant increases of a single nationality in any Member State were in the number of applications submitted by Serbian nationals and Pakistanis both in Germany. Presumably the latter is related to the peak of Pakistanis detected illegally crossing the border in late 2011, which has now to some extent subsided.
At the EU level refusals of entry fell by 15% compared to both the previous quarter and the same quarter in 2011, to the lowest level since data collection began. Nevertheless refusals in the top three reporting member States actually increased compared to a year ago: Poland (+15%), Spain (+10%) and France (+10%), suggesting that most of the reduction was distributed thinly among the other Member States. Much of the reduction at the EU level was the result Albanian nationals who were suddenly refused in much higher numbers in Q1 2011, immediately sub-sequent to being granted visa-free travel to the Schengen area. Since that time refusals of Albanians have been steadily decreasing. The majority of refusals continue to be issued by Member States at the external border to nationals of neighbouring third countries, e.g. Ukraine, Russia, Serbia, Belarus, Croatia and increasingly Morocco. Some of these nationalities, especially those at the Eastern land borders, as well as EU nationals, are increasingly involved with the smuggling of petroleum, driven in part by increasing price differentials which boost profitability.
Overseen by the new European Union Document-Fraud Risk Analysis Network, Frontex now exchanges very detailed data and performs EU-level analyses on all detections of document fraud on entry and exit at the EU external borders, and on all international flights. Recent analyses showed an increase in document fraud throughout 2011, particularly counterfeit EU residence permits, and impostors using passports on entry at the air border from third countries. In early 2012 Ukrainians, Moroccans and Iranians were increasingly detected on entry to the EU/ Schengen area from their home countries, using counterfeit stamps, authentic ID cards, and forged EU passports, respectively. Document fraud was also very common on flights within the EU/Schengen area. For example, Albanians were increasingly detected on exit from the Spanish and Italian air borders and on entry to the UK and Ireland – mostly with forged Italian ID cards; and Afghans and Iraqis were increasingly detected on exit from Athens and on entry at the German and Belgian air borders – mostly with counterfeit ID cards or forged EU passports. The former reflects movements of Albanians to the UK following their visa free status to the Schengen area, while the latter adds important details to secondary movements of migrants that originally entered the Schengen area into Greece from Turkey.