In the fourth quarter of 2014 indicators of irregular migration and asylum exchanged un-der the Frontex Risk Analysis Network (FRAN) changed only slightly compared the third quarter of 2014. Winter months tend to be marked by substantially lower migration pressure at the external borders, but in Q4 2014 detections of illegal border-crossings and illegal stay dropped less significantly and did not fall to the levels of previous winter seasons. In effect, these two indicators proved the highest out of all fourth quarters since FRAN data collection began in 2007. Compared to the same period in 2013, detections at the external borders increased by more than 160%.
While the migratory pressure at the EU’s external borders in general has not relaxed much, its distribution among particular border sections has been shifting. For instance, far more detections were reported at the West-ern Balkan route. By contrast, on the Central Mediterranean route, the number of irregular migrants detected in Q4 proved lower than the peak of Q3 2014, as the rough weather conditions at sea led to fewer migrant boats attempting the dangerous crossing. In line with seasonal reductions in the Central Mediterranean, a lower number of irregular migrants from African countries arrived in the EU in the fourth quarter. Especially Eritreans and sub-Saharans were reported in markedly lower numbers. Syrian migrants continued to be the most reported nationality in the Central Mediterranean, accounting for almost one-third of all detections at this border section. Their most common departure countries were Libya and Turkey.
In contrast to the usual winter decline at the blue border, there was a marked increase in the number of migrants arriving in the Central Mediterranean from Turkey over the last few months of 2014. This surge was directly related to the use of cargo ships to facilitate mainly Syrian migrants and asylum seekers. Between October and December 2014 eleven cargo ships carrying more than 4 500 mi-grants departed with the intention to reach Italy mainly from the area around Mersin in Turkey.
The border between Hungary and Serbia along the Western Balkan route has seen an unprecedented growth in irregular migration since September 2014. Of over 25 000 irregular migrants reported on this route in Q4, more than 60% originated from Kosovo.* Syrian and, to a lesser extent, Palestinian and Iraqi migrants involved in secondary movements having initially entered the EU from Turkey added to the pressure at the Hungarian border. In December 2014, Kosovo* citizens were for the first time the migrants most commonly detected illegally crossing the external border of the EU/Schengen area. This peak in migration from Kosovo* is four times higher than in Q2 2013, when a change in the asylum policy of Hungary introduced to harmonise it with EU standards led to a spike in migration from the Western Balkans.
Irregular migration from Kosovo* to the EU has been fuelled by the dire economic situation in the country and widespread rumours among the Kosovo* population, e.g. the belief that France’s decision to remove Kosovo* from the national list of safe countries would allegedly make it easier to obtain asylum there. Other rumours claimed that pregnant women would immediately receive asylum in Europe, or that Germany would generally issue work permits to Kosovo* citizens.
Other factors encouraging movement of Kosovo* citizens towards the EU are linked to cheap international bus connections from Kosovo* and to the recent introduction of additional crossing points from Kosovo* that can be crossed with an ID card, which further facilitates their travel through Serbia.
On the Eastern Mediterranean route, detections decreased by one-third since the comparably high summer peak of Q3 2014. While this reduction was mainly reported from the Eastern Aegean Sea, detections at the Bulgarian land border with Turkey also decreased. At this border section, however, significantly more clandestine entries to the EU/Schengen area were reported. During the reporting period, the Bulgarian authorities reported twelve times as many detections of attempted clandestine entry as one year ago, and twice as many as during the previous quarter. This increase was also connected to additional operational and technical measures implemented along the green border between Bulgaria and Turkey.
On the Western Mediterranean route, which leads across the southern Spanish coast as well as the land borders of Ceuta and Melilla, the number of detections of illegal migration from Morocco decreased by 40% since the seasonal peak reported in Q3 2014. The total numbers of detections of illegal border-crossing in this region are at a similar level as one year ago, but in contrast to Q4 2013, around two-thirds were reported from the maritime border in spite of the adverse conditions. Additional measures at the land border of the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla significantly reduced the number of illegal entries across the fence. As regards illegal stay, in Q4 2014 Member States reported more detections than in any previous fourth quarter so far. Compared to Q3 2014, the level of detections was only slightly lower during the reporting period. Most detections were not only made in the western and northern European destination countries of irregular migration, but also along the transit routes across the EU, including in countries such as Spain, Austria, and Bulgaria. Detections of illegal stay thus reflect the current complex picture of irregular migration to the EU in terms of entry points, secondary routes and intended destinations.
With 2 500 reported detections of document fraud in Q4 2014, slightly more cases were reported on entry to the EU/Schengen area from third countries than during the previous quarter. However, the level of detections is similar to one year ago.
At the air borders, Istanbul Atatürk International Airport in Turkey remained the third-country embarkation airport most reported for detections of fraudulent documents. The increase of almost 50% compared to Q3 2014 points to a significant risk at the EU’s air borders and marks a return to the relatively high figures recorded in the second half of 2013. Almost one third of the cases of document fraud on the routes from Istanbul involved Syrian nationals travelling on fraudulent Algerian, Bulgarian or French passports.
By the same token, the number of fraudulent document cases reported on intra-EU/ SAC movements showed a slight increase compared to Q3 2014. The most significant growth of over 100% was related to Albanian nationals, who were detected in the highest numbers since the beginning of EDF data collection. Most of these cases were related to Albanian nationals on flights from Italy, France, Greece, and Germany to the UK and Ireland, predominantly using fraudulent Italian, Greek and Romanian ID cards.