In the second quarter of 2018, Member States reported an expected (on account of seasonality) increase in the number of detections of illegal border-crossings compared with the first quarter (roughly doubling), but a 45% drop compared with the same quarter of 2017. Both the Eastern and Western Mediterranean routes (along with the less used Western African and Eastern Borders routes) recorded a strong increase in detections in both aforementioned comparisons – the Eastern Mediterranean route due in particular to a peak in April (highest monthly total since the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement in particular due to the detections at the Greek land border) and the Western Mediterranean route due to a continuous steep upward trend since April.
Specifically, the following trends have been observed along the different migration routes:
After a drop in detections in March due to inclement weather conditions, the Western Mediterranean route saw a steady increase in illegal border-crossings month on month to an almost sixfold increase in June. The number of departures from Algeria (almost exclusively Algerian nationals), a major phenomenon in the last quarter of 2017, remained negligible in Q2. The share of sub-Saharans using the Western Mediterranean route increased further in Q2, signifying an increasing preference for the Western Mediterranean route rather than the previously used Central Mediterranean route, often aided by the visa-freedom enjoyed by select nationalities in Morocco, which has in particular led to an uptick in migrants using air routes to Casablanca.
On the Eastern Mediterranean route, the increase in registered detections was mostly due to a strong increase (compared to Q2 2017) in illegal border-crossings at the land border of Greece with Turkey. The sea route between Turkey and Greece also saw increases, but in relative terms more moderate ones, signifying mostly the increased adaptability of smuggling networks operating in the Eastern Aegean Sea.
On the Central Mediterranean route, while the Libyan Coast Guard increasingly thwarted departures from Libya, the uptick in departures from Tunisia, which started in the last quarter of 2017, continued in 2018, albeit the record numbers of October 2017 were not reached in Q2. Departures from both Algeria and Turkey (sailing via the Ionian Sea) were significantly below the comparable numbers of Q2 2017.
A look at the full range of indicators of irregular migratory activities shows that the indicators have all either declined or stayed roughly unchanged, with the most notable exceptions relating to the number of issued refusals of entry (+7%) and detected people smugglers (+8%). With regard to refusals of entry, this increase is almost exclusively the result of the upsurge in refusals at land borders. As regards people smugglers, much of the increase can be traced to secondary movements linked to the migratory routes that experienced heightened migration flows.