In 2015, Member States reported more than 1 820 000 detections of illegal border-crossing along the external borders. This never-before-seen figure was more than six times the number of detections reported in 2014, which was itself an unprecedented year, with record monthly averages observed since April 2014.
The year 2015 began with extremely high levels for the month of January (over 20 000 detections, against the 2009–2014 January average of 4 700 detections), and each subsequent month set a new monthly record. In July, a turning point was reached with more than 100 000 detections, coinciding with a change in the law in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia allowing migrants to legalise their stay for a 72-hour period after they express a wish to apply for international protection. It resulted in a further increase of the flow and throughout the summer months scenes of chaos from the border areas spoke of a situation that appeared out of control. In September, public bus and train services were requisitioned in West ern Balkan countries and in some Member States to transport migrants, but the flow continued to grow until October. As of November, the situation eased a little, but the EU’s total for December, at over 220 000 detections, was still way above the figure for the entire 2013.
There is no EU system capable of tracing people’s movements following an illegal border-crossing. Therefore it is not possible to establish the precise number of persons who have illegally crossed two sections of the external borders of the EU. Only an estimate of about 1 000 000 persons can be provided, based on the assumption that all migrants first detected irregularly crossing in Greece were then detected for a second time re-entering the EU from the Western Balkans.
The largest number of detections was reported on the Eastern Mediterranean route (885 386), mostly between Turkey and the Greek islands in the Eastern Aegean Sea. However, few applied for asylum in Greece and instead crossed the border to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and continued through the Western Balkans, initially towards the Hungarian border with Serbia, where they applied for asylum, and then to their final destinations in the EU. As of mid-September, the flow shifted to wards the Croatian border with Serbia, following the construction of a temporary technical obstacle in Hungary and the establishment of transit areas for immediate processing of asylum applicants with the possibility of return to Serbia.
In contrast, on the Central Mediterranean route, the number of detections of illegal border-crossing was about 154 000, a slight decrease compared to the previous year, but this fi was still higher than total detections recorded for the entire EU in 2011, i.e. the year of the Arab Spring (141 051). The decrease was due to a lower number of Syrians (about 40 000 in 2014, and 7 448 in 2015), who seemed to have shifted to the Eastern Mediterranean route.
On the Western Mediterranean route, the cooperation between Spain and Morocco is key in maintaining detections on the land route between the two countries at a relatively low level. As a result, sub-Saharan migrants, who tended to make a sea crossing to Spain, now increasingly opt for departing from Libya. On the Western African route, which connects Senegal, Mauritania and Morocco with the Spanish Canary Islands after a treacherous journey on the Atlantic Ocean, the numbers remain negligible despite an increasing trend of departures from Morocco. The low number is attributed to the joint surveillance activities and effective return of those detected crossing the border illegally.
On the Eastern land border, a new route emerged in 2015 at the land borders of Norway and Finland with the Russian Federation (the so-called Arctic route). The main targeted border crossing point (BCP) was the Norwegian BCP of Storskog, which registered an unusually high number of applications for asylum in 2015 (over 5 200). The situation in Norway eased in December, when the Russian Federation resumed its practice of preventing the exit of travellers without a travel document that would allow them to enter the EU. However, at the onset of 2016, the situation remains a concern in Finland, though with fewer cases than in Norway so far.
The declaring to hail from Syria (594 059) and Afghanistan (267 485) represented the highest share of detections of illegal border-crossing on entry to the EU in 2015. While Syrians undeniably constitute the largest proportion, their exact number is difficult to establish due to the fact that many other migrants also claim to be from Syria in order to accelerate their travel. Establishing the identity of a large number of poorly documented migrants is one of the main challenges border-control authorities are confronted with.
Since 2014, the number of detected West Africans has been steadily increasing, to reach over 64 000 detections in 2015, of whom nearly 85% on the Central Mediterranean route. In contrast to East Africans, who tend to apply for asylum in other Member States, West Africans apply for asylum in Italy and in fact ac count for the largest share of asylum applicants in this country.
While Greece and Italy have been under particularly intense pressure as the two main entry points reporting several thousand arrivals per day, the large-scale inflows of migrants have been a new experience for several other Member States. The main challenges include the widening of the surveillance areas, the growing need for and the extension of search and rescue operations, the lack of facilities to receive and accommodate thousands of persons over a short time, the lack of expertise to detect non-typical travel documents, difficulties in addressing fraudulent declarations of nationality or age, and non-systematic entry of fingerprints to the Eurodac. Last but not least, the process of registration at the borders should more thoroughly take into account the risks to internal security.
The Paris attacks in November 2015 clearly demonstrated that irregular migratory flows could be used by terrorists to enter the EU. Two of the terrorists involved in the attacks had previously irregularly entered through Leros and had been registered by the Greek authorities. They presented fraudulent Syrian documents to speed up their registration process.
As the vast majority of migrants arrive undocumented, screening activities are essential to properly verify their declaration of nationality. False declarations of nationality are rife among nationals who are unlikely to obtain asylum in the EU, are liable to be returned to their country of origin or transit, or just want to speed up their journey. With a large number of persons arriving with false or no identification documents or raising concerns over the validity of their claimed nationality – with no thorough check or penalties in place for those making such false declarations, there is a risk that some persons representing a security threat to the EU may be taking advantage of this situation.
The unprecedented number of detections of illegal border-crossing has also led to a surge in violent incidents along the EU’s external borders. People smugglers, motivated by profit, increasingly put migrants’ lives at risk and even threaten border guards to recover boats or escape apprehension. Also, situations when a large number of people are crossing the border en masse have led to violence requiring public order policing, a task for which border-control authorities are neither adequately equipped nor trained.
It is dauntingly difficult to estimate fatalities among migrants irregularly crossing the border because it is not possible to keep an accurate tally of missing persons. Frontex does not record these data and can only report the number of bodies recovered during Joint Operations. In 2015, 470 dead bodies were reported in the Mediterranean area, an increase of 112% compared to 2014. According to IOM estimates, more than 3 770 persons went missing or died in the Mediterranean area in 2015.
In spite of the popular perception that mass migration may pose a threat of the spread of infectious diseases, WHO ‘Public Health Aspects of Migration in Europe’ (PHAME) indicates that there is no evidence to suggest such connection. Refugees and migrants are mainly exposed to the infectious diseases that are common in Europe, independently of migration. The risk that exotic infectious agents will be brought to Europe is extremely low.
In a situation of continued pressure on the EU’s external borders, it is presumed that these challenges will be best addressed in a coordinated manner, requiring harmonised application of legislation and pooling of resources. In addition, efforts should be pursued in the area of returns. Indeed, in its European Agenda on Migration, the Commission states that ‘one of the incentives for irregular migrants is the knowledge that the EU’s return system – meant to return irregular migrants or those whose asylum applications have been refused – works imperfectly.’Frontex has created scenarios to form a basis for an annual monitoring of changes in the environment in which the Agency operates. Very different stakeholders can make use of these scenarios to develop their own internal strategies or monitor how these strategies fit into a changing environment. Seven scenarios are outlined in the present report, spanning a large variety of possible futures.