Detections of illegal border-crossing along the EU’s external borders dropped sharply in 2012 to about 73 000, i.e. half the number reported in 2011. This was the first time since systematic data collection began in 2008 that annual detections have plunged under 100 000.
In the Central Mediterranean area, the large number of detections in 2011, which suddenly increased following the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Libya, had been significantly reduced by the end of 2011. However, throughout 2012, detections steadily increased and by the end of the year they totalled more than 10 300.
Starting from 2008, considerable numbers of migrants had been detected crossing illegally the border between Turkey and Greece, along the so-called Eastern Mediterranean route. The situation changed dramatically in August 2012 when the Greek authorities mobilised unprecedented resources at their land border with Turkey, including the deployment of 1 800 additional Greek police officers. The number of detected illegal border-crossings rapidly dropped from about 2 000 in the first week of August to below 10 per week in October 2012.
The enhanced controls along the Greek-Turkish land border led to a moderate increase in detections of illegal border-crossing in the Aegean Sea and at the land border between Bulgaria and Turkey, but simultaneous mitigation efforts in Turkey and Bulgaria have so far contained the displacements. There remains the risk of resurgence of irregular migration, since many migrants may be waiting for the conclusion of the Greek operations before they continue their journey towards Europe.
Many migrants who cross the border illegally to Greece move on to other Member States, mostly through the land route across the Western Balkans. Contrary to the decrease at the Greek-Turkish land border, there was no decrease in detections of illegal border-crossing on the Western Balkan route (6 390, +37%).
In 2012, in the Western Mediterranean area between North Africa and Spain, detections of illegal border-crossing decreased by nearly a quarter compared to 2011 but remained above the levels recorded in previous years (6 400, -24%).
In 2012, Afghans remained the most detected nationality for illegal border-crossing at EU level, but their number considerably dropped compared to 2011. Syrians stand out, with large increases in detections of illegal border-crossing and for using fraudulent documents compared to 2011. Most of the detected Syrians applied for asylum in the EU, fleeing the civil war in their country.
There were large increases in refusals of entry at the Polish land border with Belarus and Ukraine. However, these increases were offset by a decrease in refusals of entry issued at other border sections, resulting in a stable total at EU level compared to 2011 (-3%, 115 000 refusals of entry).
Detections of illegal stayers, which totalled about 350 000 in the EU in 2012, have shown a stable but slightly declining long-term trend since 2008. Most migrants detected illegally staying in the EU were from Afghanistan and Morocco.
Despite a short-term increase of 10% between 2011 and 2012, the overall trend of detections of facilitators of irregular migration has been falling since 2008, totalling about 7 700 in 2012. This long-term decline may be in part due to a widespread shift towards the abuse of legal channels (such as overstaying, abuse of visa-free regime, etc.) and document fraud, which results in facilitators being able to operate remotely and inconspicuously.
In 2012, there were around 8 000 detections of migrants using fraudulent documents to enter the EU or Schengen area illegally.
Preliminary data on asylum applications in 2012 indicate an overall increase of about 7% compared to the previous year. While Afghans continue to account for the largest share of applications, much of the increase was due to an increasing number of applications submitted by Syrian nationals.
The number of asylum applications submitted in the EU by Western Balkan citizens, mostly those from Serbia, remained unabated in 2012. Consequently, following the implementation of the visa facilitation agreement with five Western Balkan countries that started at the end of 2009, there are now discussions in the EU about the possible reintroduction of the visa regime.
In 2012, there was a steady trend of about 160 000 third-country nationals effectively returned to third countries. Greece reported the largest number of returns of a single nationality (Albanians), and effective returns in Greece increased markedly in the last quarter of 2012 following the launch of the Xenios Zeus operation.
Looking ahead, the assessment of risks along the EU’s external borders shows that despite a sharp reduction in detections between 2011 and 2012, the risks associated with illegal border-crossing along the land and sea external borders remain among the highest, in particular in the southern section of the border of the EU.
The risk of illegal border-crossing along the land borders of the Eastern Mediterranean route, including the Greek and Bulgarian land border with Turkey, is assessed amongst the highest. This comes after several years of large numbers of migrants detected at the Greek land border with Turkey. Although the flow abruptly stopped in August 2012, there are reports of uncertainties related to the sustainability of the efforts and growing evidence that migrants are waiting in Turkey for the end of the operation. Increases at the neighbouring sea border (Aegean Sea), at the land border between Bulgaria and Turkey and increases in detections of document fraud from Istanbul airports, although so far relatively small, indicate that alternatives to the Greek land border are being explored by facilitators.
Many of the migrants who crossed illegally through the Eastern Mediterranean route are expected to continue making secondary movements across the Western Balkans and within the EU.
The risk of illegal border-crossing across the Central Mediterranean area was also assessed amongst the highest due the continued volatile situation in countries of departure in North Africa. Crisis situations are still likely to arise at the southern border with thousands of people trying to cross the border illegally in the span of several weeks or months. Past experiences also show that these crises take their toll on human lives, and are very difficult to predict and quell without a coordinated response.
Most risks associated with document fraud were assessed as high. Indeed, document fraudsters not only undermine border security but also the internal security of the EU. These risks are also common to nearly all Member States, as they are associated with passenger flows and border checks, which are a specific expertise of border-control authorities.
Fraud is expected mostly among EU travel documents (e.g. passports, visas and ID cards).
False pretence or deception is used to obtain a wide range of documents. The most common technique is to use fraudulent documents to obtain short-term visas.
Most risks associated with the abuse of legal channels are assessed as high as they are common and widely spread phenomena.
Based on currently available information, the risks associated with cross-border criminality are assessed as moderate, including the risks of trafficking in human beings, terrorism, smuggling of illicit drugs and exit of stolen vehicles.