In 2014, the situation affecting security at the borders between EU Member States and Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and the Russian Federation was determined by many correlated factors.
Firstly, the overall regular passenger flow, depending on the border section, was mainly influenced by such factors as: (a) the number of visas issued by EU Member States; (b) movements under the local border traffic regime; (c) fluctuation of shopping-related cross-border travel by both EU and EB-RAN countries and the Russian Federation; (d) economic situation of the EU’s eastern neighbours; (e) entry restrictions.
In 2014, sanctions and other factors such as oil price declines in the world markets led to a strong devaluation of the Russian rouble and the Ukrainian hryvnia, as well as an economic downturn in the eastern neighbourhood of the EU. The worsening economic situation has an effect on the volume and profile of regular passenger flows. However, the impact seems to vary strongly between border sections depending on the composition of the flow (EU/ non-EU) and the purpose of travel. Thus, the year 2014 was marked by decline of traffic flows at EU Member States’ borders with the Russian Federation and growth at the borders with Ukraine.
Secondly, the smuggling of excise and illicit goods, to some extent connected to regular passenger flows, remained a major threat to border security. Data collected within the Eastern European Borders Risk Analysis Net- work (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 border-crossing points (BCPs); however, a variety of modi operandi were also detected at green borders (be- tween BCPs) varying from the so-called ant smuggling through BCPs to the use of rafts on border rivers to smuggle large amounts of cigarettes across the common borders. Even though 2014 was marked by fewer incidents, they involved larger amounts of smuggled illicit cigarettes. Undoubtedly, the economic crisis in the Russian Federation and Ukraine deepened the differences in prices of commodities such as tobacco, thus encouraging smuggling activities. 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, in turn, ranged from cannabis and synthetic drugs transiting/originating from the EU and smuggled towards the EB-RAN countries to heroin and precursors of amphetamines smuggled to the EU.
Thirdly, in 2014 there were fewer people moving irregularly across the common borders. However, taking into consideration the com- position of the flow, purpose of travel or different modi operandi, different trends were observed.
In 2014, detections of illegal border-crossing remained at a low level (1 275) in comparison with other sections of the EU’s external borders: only 0.5% of all illegal border-crossings reported by EU Member States at the external borders were reported from the 6 000-kilometre-long eastern borders of the EU. Arguably, this is because irregular migrants (especially non-regional nationals*) who take the route via EB-RAN countries or the Russian Federation to the EU face considerable logistic difficulties and high costs, as well as a high risk of detection resulting from efficient cooperation of border-control authorities on both sides of the common borders. Although ‘push factors’ in the 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. As regards the origin of migrants detected by EU Member States crossing the border illegally between BCPs in 2014, the share of regional migrants** declined in favour of a higher number of non-regional ones.
In contrast to the rather low level of threat of illegal border-crossing, the number of mi- grants refused entry remained high in 2014, even though a significant drop was recorded. The number of refusals of entry reported by EU Member States fell to almost 36 700 down from over 50 000 in 2013. However, refusals of entry reported at the EU’s eastern land borders still represented 32% of the EU’s total, which may indicate a persisting risk of the abuse of legal travel channels. While the large number of refusals of entry can be partly explained by new key factors affecting movements towards the EU (the ailing Russian economy and the Ukrainian crisis), some individual phenomena stood out in 2014:
1. A sharp increase in Russian citizens refused entry to Ukraine;
2. A significant drop when compared to 2013 in refusals of entry issued to Georgians by Poland, coupled with a decreasing trend of their asylum applications and detections of illegally staying Georgian nationals;
3. A decreasing number of Russian nationals of Chechen origin, travelling through Belarus to Polish land borders without a visa;
4. A noticeable increase in the number of Ukrainian citizens refused entry, applying for asylum and detected for illegal stay compared to 2013;
5. A higher number of refusals of entry to the EU issued to Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz;
6. A growing number Syrian nationals using false documents to enter the EU and subsequently apply for asylum.
The situation in Ukraine, the consequences of the economic crisis in the Russian Federation and its migration policy remain the most important uncertainties affecting the outlook for the region. So far, in terms of border security at the common borders, the impact of the Ukrainian crisis has remained limited. However, continued political and economic pressure in Ukraine does make stabilisation of the situation hard to achieve. The ongoing crisis in Ukraine remains by far the most important source of current and future population movements in the region.
* Migrants from countries other than the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) or Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries
** Migrants from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries