After the FRAN indicators of illegal border-crossing between BCPs, illegal stay, and asylum had reached record levels in the fourth quarter of 2015, the situation clearly relaxed at the beginning of 2016. On one hand, the irregular migration pressure continuously decreased between January and March 2016. On the other hand, the reporting period still showed the highest level of irregular migration of any previous first quarter since the FRAN data collection began.
Similar to 2015, also in Q1 2016, most migrants were detected on the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Balkan routes. Most migrants who had entered the EU from Turkey were reported for a second time when they passed through the Western Balkans and then crossed the EU’s external border from Serbia.
In Q1 2016, illegal border-crossings detected at the EU’s external borders with Turkey fell behind the record levels of the second half of 2015 for several reasons. Firstly, the adverse weather conditions prevented many migrants from boarding boats in the East-ern Aegean Sea. Secondly, the agreement between the EU and Turkey removing incentives to seek irregular routes to Greece and targeting the people smugglers’ business model led to a further reduction of arrivals on the Eastern Aegean islands in March. Nevertheless, the number of illegal border-crossings on this route remained higher than in any previous first quarter.
Irregular migration on the Western Balkan route has closely followed the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean route with the difference that irregular migration pressure declined faster than in the Eastern Aegean Sea. Consolidated border control measures and increasing entry restrictions coordinated by the authorities along the route nearly stopped migration and left many migrants stranded on their way, especially in the Greek area of Idomeni. Existing data indicate that most migrants on this route were non-regional nationals.
The level of migratory flows across the Central Mediterranean Sea was also higher than during any other first quarter since the FRAN data collection began in 2007. Compared with last quarter, however, the number of illegal border-crossings reported by Italy and Malta decreased due to adverse weather conditions at sea. Three quarters of the detections made on the Central Mediterranean route in Q1 2016 were related to migrants from West Africa.
In the reference period, detections of illegal stay in the EU/Schengen Associated Countries were over one third lower than during the last quarter, at the peak of last year’s record migration to the EU. However, with more than 127 000 persons reported in the EU/Schengen area, the number is 19% higher than during the same period of 2015. Compared with one year ago, the relative increase in Iraqi and Iranian nationals detected for illegal stay was significant.In spite of the unprecedented level of irregular migration, the number of effective returns decreased 3% since last quarter. Fewer effective returns were reported especially of citizens of Western Balkan and Latin American countries.