In Q1 2013 all indicators of irregular migration and asylum exchanged under the FRAN and EDF-RAN were reduced in comparison with the final months of 2012. In most cases these declines were interpreted as consistent with the cycle of seasonal variation, whereby the first few months of each year are usually associated with reduced pressure at the border compared to other times of the year. This was especially true of asylum applications that have declined by 12–24% at the beginning of each year since data collection began in 2008. Detections of document fraud also showed signs of seasonal decrease, both in terms of entry at the external border and on intra-Schengen flights.
There were, however, two indicators that in Q1 2013 showed signs of reductions in excess of what would normally be expected based on seasonal trends. Firstly, detections of mi-grants illegally staying in the EU were reduced, but this indicator has been in steady decline from over 100 000 per quarter in the beginning of 2009 to the lowest ever level of 77 000 in the current reporting period. Secondly, detections of illegal border-crossing were much reduced following, among other things, increased operational activity at the external border, particularly in Greece.
The Greek operation Aspida, carried out at the Greek-Turkish border, has had dramatic and pervasive impact on both local and more general irregular migration trends.
In the area of the operation, detections of irregular migrants decreased to a minimum. Although some of this decline was due to seasonal variation, the operation is considered by many sources to have effectively closed this border section for irregular migrants. Other factors that contributed to reducing detections in the area include the completion of a border fence and the threat of longer detention times for detected migrants.
The operation has also forced the growing number of migrants arriving in Turkey to redirect to alternative routes, where normally they would crossed the land border to Greece. Reports and data suggest that these migrants, most of whom began to congregate in Istanbul, were offered three alternative modi operandi to enter the EU:
(a) Leaving the west coast of Turkey in small boats to illegally cross the Eastern Aegean Sea to the Greek Islands: Syrians and Afghans were both detected at similar frequencies of around 500 each over the three-month period.
(b) Illegally crossing the green border into Bulgaria: detections of illegal border-crossing at the Bulgarian land border with Turkey began to increase almost immediately after the beginning of the Greek operation Aspida. In response, the Bulgarian Border Guard Authority deployed a specialised police operation and enhanced air surveillance at the Bulgarian-Turkish land border, and they implemented an Integrated Border Surveillance System (IBSS) along the most affected part of the border. Syrians were the most commonly detected migrants at this border section, with 279 detections.
(c) Purchasing fraudulent documents and boarding flights from Istanbul to the EU: since the beginning of the Greek operation Aspida, there has been an increase in the number of migrants detected arriving on flights from Turkey using fraudulent documents, particularly Syrians as well as other nationalities usually associated with illegal border-crossing to Greece from Turkey.
The Greek operation Aspida has also changed the extent and nature of document fraud used at the external border and within the Schengen area. Before the operation, large numbers of migrants entered Greece from Turkey and then used fraudulent documents to make secondary movements on intra-Schengen flights from Athens to final destination Member States. This flow was probably also under-estimated because of the lack of systematic checks and absence of border control on these intra-Schengen flights. Since the operation Aspida prevented large numbers of migrants from reaching Athens, detections of document fraudsters arriving in the Schengen area on flights from Athens has dropped by 50%. Consistent with the theory that migrants were congregating in Istanbul, detections on flights from Istanbul more than doubled over the same period. However, immediately subsequent to the reporting period there have been reports of many migrants avoiding Istanbul and instead heading straight to Izmir for immediate departure towards the Greek Islands.
The Western Balkans land route is another way in which migrants who originally entered the Schengen area in Greece make secondary movements to their final destination countries. Hence, given the pervasive effects of the Greek operation Aspida, it would not have been unreasonable to have foreseen a reduction in pressure across the region, particularly in terms of ‘long-distance’ nationalities normally associated with irregular migration into Greece, such as Afghans, Pakistanis, Syrians and Algerians. However, ac-cording to data exchanged by the FRAN and the WB-RAN, in Q1 2013 detections of illegal border-crossing actually increased by 29% (to 8 500) compared with the same period in 2012, with around two-thirds of detections being migrants assumed to have first entered the Schengen area in Greece. One potential ex-planation for the continued existence of this flow is that these migrants may have entered Greece before the operation Aspida started in August 2012; hence indicating that the journey takes on average at least eight months. An alternative explanation is that these mi-grants were already illegally staying in Greece, and left under increased pressure from the Greek authorities, who have also been targeting migrant communities in Athens and other urban areas.
The border section which reported most in-creases of irregular migration during the first three months of 2013 was the Hungarian land border with Serbia. In this location there was a threefold increase in detections of illegal border-crossing in Q1 2013 compared to the same period in 2012. Most detections were secondary movements of long-distance mi-grants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Algeria who originally entered the Schengen area in Greece. However, the biggest increase was a threefold rise in the number of detected Kosovo* citizens, and a corresponding eightfold increase in their asylum applications in Hungary as a whole.Also in Greece, but unrelated to the operation Aspida, Albanians continued to feature highly in several indicators of irregular migration. For example, with more than 1 000 detections they were the most commonly detected migrants illegally crossing the external land border, almost exclusively to Greece but with a steady trend compared to previous reporting periods. They were also commonly detected as illegal stayers and they were refused entry to Greece in significant but stable numbers. Albanians were the second most common nationality detected for document fraud on entry at the external border from a third country. In this case they were using counterfeit Greek border-crossing stamps at their land border with Greece in order to fabricate travel histories and extend periods of stay. Albanians were also detected using forged and counterfeit Greek or Italian ID cards in significant and increasing numbers to attempt entry to the UK from the Schengen area, sometimes via Ireland.
* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.