In 2013, border security at the borders be- tween Member States and Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and the Russian Federation was shaped by several interlinked factors.
Firstly, overall regular passenger flow continued to grow in 2013, by roughly 10% from 2012. The growth was driven by expanding legal travel channels – growing visa issuance and implementation of local border traffic agreements – as well as longer-term economic developments in Eastern European Borders Risk Analysis Network (EB-RAN) countries and the Russian Federation encouraging mobility of people and goods. Growing regular traffic has generated considerable pressure on border-crossing points’ (BCPs) capacity to keep the traffic both smooth and secure. In addition to development of infrastructure, Border Guard authorities are searching for new innovative solutions for border checks technology, logistics and processes. Although the growth of traffic can be expected to be modest in 2014, these efforts should be further encouraged, as long-term factors for the growth in traffic remain valid.
Secondly and somewhat connected to regular passenger flows, the smuggling of excise and illicit goods remained a major threat to border security. Data collected within the EB-RAN, as well as during Frontex-coordinated Joint Operations, indicate that the smuggling of tobacco products was particularly common. Smuggling occurred primarily through official BCPs; however, a variety of modi operandi were also detected at green borders (between BCPs) varying from the so-called ‘ant smuggling’ through the BCPs to the use of rafts at the border rivers to smuggle large amounts of cigarettes across common borders.* Additionally, cross-border criminal activities also included attempts to smuggle stolen vehicles and motorbikes from the EU to EB-RAN countries. Smuggling of illicit drugs range from cannabis and synthetic drugs transiting/originating in the EU and smuggled towards EB-RAN countries to heroin and precursors of amphetamines smuggled to the EU.
Thirdly, there were more irregular movements of people across the common borders in 2013. However, the trends as regards modi operandi and origin of irregular migrants were quite varied.
In 2013 detections of illegal border-crossing remained low (1 316) in comparison with other sections of the EU’s external borders: only 1.2% of all illegal border-crossings reported by Member States at the external borders were reported from the 6 000-kilometre-long eastern borders of the EU. Arguably this is because migrants taking the route via EB-RAN countries or the Russian Federation to the EU, especially non-regional migrants, face (a) logistic difficulties and high costs; (b) efficiently cooperating border-control authorities on both sides of the common borders; and therefore (c) high risk of detection. Although ‘push factors’ in origin countries of irregular migrants, such as Afghanistan, would point to a growing threat of illegal border-crossing, the magnitude of the threat will most likely be limited in a wider EU perspective.
In contrast to the rather low level of threat as regards illegal border-crossing, the issue of migrants refused entry and then applying for asylum and absconding from reception centres can be assessed as the most serious at common borders in 2013 in terms of magnitude. The number of refusals of entry rose to over 50 000, i.e. 39% of the EU total, indicating a growing risk of abuse of legal travel channels. While the large number of refusals of entry can be partly explained by growth in regular traffic, two individual phenomena stood out in 2013:
1. A sharp increase in nationals of the Russian Federation of Chechen origin refused entry and then using asylum applications in Poland as a way to enter the EU and move further on to Germany.
2. The continued flow of Georgian nationals to Poland and further on to other Member States using a variety of modus operandi.
The main entry point in both cases was the Polish-Belarusian border.
While not attracting media attention and not putting the lives of migrants at risk, the use of this modus operandi appears to be a significant entry channel of irregular migration to the EU. It exploits possibilities for legal entry while still absorbing an important part of the resources at the border.
The abuse of visas in order to work irregularly and/or overstay in other Member States than that stated in the visa was also reported, including continued use of fraudulent supporting documentation and falsified stamps to conceal the fact of overstaying.
As the abuse of visas, asylum system and other means of legal entry touches responsibilities of many authorities, the risks should be mitigated by searching for solutions from all four tiers of border security: measures implemented by third countries, cooperation agreements, border checks and measures within the area of free movement.
The situation in Ukraine is the main uncertainty considering the outlook on border security. So far, at the common borders with the EU, the impact of the crisis has remained limited. However, continued political and economic pressure in Ukraine does make stabilisation of the situation hard to achieve. Population movements from the contested areas, especially Crimea and Eastern Ukraine are possible. On the other hand, economic and political instability may cause changes in labour migration, thus possibly also impacting irregular movements.
Despite the existing risks in border security, there are also important positive developments in sight: the implementation of the EU-Moldova visa liberalisation in April 2014 can be regarded as a major sign of enhanced border security and cooperation in the region, which makes it possible to promote regular cross-border mobility without compromising border security.
* For definition of common and regional borders see general map of the EB-RAN region in Figure 3, page 12.