In the first quarter of 2014 all of the indicators of irregular migration and asylum, except the number of detected facilitators, decreased in comparison with the last quarter of 2013. This general trend was in line with the annually recurring cycle of seasonal variation, whereby the first months of each year are usually marked by reduced pressure at the external borders.
However, the decrease in the number of illegal border-crossings was not as substantial as what would usually be expected from the seasonal fluctuations at this time of the year. In fact, the past winter season showed a massive influx of irregular migration at the external border of the EU. Concretely, Q1 2014 was marked by the highest number of illegal border-crossings of any first quarter since the initial stages of the Arab Spring in 2011.
Most irregular migrants were reported from the sea border of the EU. Compared to one year ago, Italy reported a sevenfold increase in illegal border-crossings while numbers in Greece more than doubled. Detections reported from the Italian sea border rep-resented almost 50% of all detected illegal border-crossings in Q1 2014. For the first of any quarter since FRAN data collection began, Malians were the most reported nationality at this part of the maritime border, followed by Eritreans and Syrians.
By the end of Q1 2014, several indicators pointed to a quick resumption of migratory movements across the Italian sea border after the seasonal decline of the winter months. What was remarkable was the speed at which migration appeared to regain momentum. Already in March, the number of arrivals in Italy and Malta seemed to reach the exceptionally high levels of the summer of 2013. In the context of Frontex JO Hermes 2013, almost 5 000 irregular migrants were apprehended during the third week of March. Second, an analysis of the different waves of migrant boats that have been targeting the Italian sea border since November 2013 suggests a development of the logistical and organisational capacity of the criminal groups that are facilitating the gathering and embarkation of migrants along the Libyan coast.
In addition to the large numbers of Syrians that have been regularly detected in the East-ern Mediterranean region since the outbreak of hostilities in Syria, numerous migrants from this country have started to reach Europe from Northern Africa. In Q1 2014, close to one third of Syrians were detected on the Central Mediterranean route.
Increased operational activity in the Eastern Mediterranean region led to a decrease in detections of illegal border-crossing. Since the Bulgarian authorities started a special police operation at their border with Turkey migratory movements originally displaced by the Greek Operation Aspida from the Greek to the Bulgarian border declined substantially. The fact that the overall number of illegal border-crossings on the Eastern Mediterranean route was still higher than one year ago can be attributed to detections that were made in the Aegean Sea.
The most illegal border-crossings at a land border section in Q1 2014 were reported by Hungary. Although the number of detections at the Hungarian-Serbian border has remained stable since Q4 2013, a significant increase was reported compared with the corresponding quarter of the previous year.
Afghans remained the most reported nationality at this border section, followed by Syrians. These detections point to sustained secondary movements from Greece through the Western Balkan region to Hungary and further on to other EU Member States, in spite of increased operational activities at the EU external borders with Turkey.
The land border with the strongest increase of illegal border-crossings, compared to both the last quarter and the situation one year ago, was around the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. As a result of a number of at-tempts to cross these borders, three times as many persons as in Q1 2013 were able to enter protecting the enclaves. While those with sufficient funds used the services of facilitators to reach Spain as clandestine mi-grants hidden in motor vehicles, the majority of individuals willing to reach Spanish territory opted to simply climb the fences, frequently in large groups.
The attempted breaches of the borders to the Spanish enclaves were part of a general trend of a shift from the sea to the land border on the Western Mediterranean route. One of the reasons for this change may be the strengthened surveillance at sea.
Of all FRAN indicators, the number of asylum applications showed the most regular long-term upward trend. Although this indicator has been marked by a clear decline at the beginning of each year, the annual total asylum numbers increased by almost a fifth every year since 2010. Simultaneously, asylum seekers increasingly focus on the top destination countries. Since 2010, the pro-portion of applications for international protection submitted in Germany and Sweden grew from around a third to one half of the total number reported to FRAN.
In Bulgaria, asylum applications decreased by approximately a third after peaking in Q4 2013. This decrease coincided with a drop in detections of illegal border-crossing at the land border between Bulgaria and Turkey. In other Member States, asylum applications remained fairly stable.
Syrians submitted a fifth of all applications for international protection, being the number one nationality for the third quarter in a row. Syrians did not follow the same seasonal pattern as other nationalities, which showed a substantial decline in applications during the winter season. Since the beginning of the war in Syria, a rather insignificant drop in applications during the winter was normally followed by a larger increase during the following summer months, with the respective curve resembling more upward stairs rather than the usual waves. Around three quarters of Syrian asylum seekers submitted their application in the top asylum countries Germany, Sweden, Bulgaria and the Netherlands.
Compared to the same period in 2013, document fraud decreased in Q1 2014 in terms of detections from third countries on entry to the EU and Schengen area. Spain, Italy, France and Greece together accounted for more than half of all cases at the EU level. The long-term upward trend in Spain continued also in Q1 2014, when the country reported more detections than ever, mainly at Madrid airport or Ceuta and Melilla.
The political crisis and armed conflict in Ukraine did not show any larger effect on the reported cases of document fraud. Ukrainians that were detected entering the EU/Schengen area with fraudulent travel documents generally followed the overall seasonal trend, although the number decreased at a slower pace in Q1 2014.