Illegal migration pressure in the EU underwent a foreseeable seasonal increase during the second quarter of 2010, but is still clearly in a period of decline. Evidently, only one FRAN indicator is on the rise – the use of false documents, but detections and increases thereof remain negligible relative to flows of regular passengers and the number of entry points.
The widespread decline in illegal migration pressure is probably due to two key factors. The first is decreased employment opportunities in the EU (especially for migrants) compounded by a weaker Euro, which together render the EU a much less attractive place to work and gather remittances. Despite several states enjoying some signs of economic recovery, there has been little revival in employment sectors typified by migrants. The second is stricter migration and asylum policies in Member States, supported by much more effective collaboration with key third countries. For example, stricter migration and asylum policies in Norway and the UK have reduced the number of applications in these Member States, although there may be some evidence of displacement of asylum seekers to neighbouring Member States. Similarly, bilateral agreements between Italy and Libya, and between Spain and both Senegal and Mauritania, continue to control, for the time being at least, most illegal migration via the Central Mediterranean and West African routes, respectively.
Most illegal migration takes place by overstaying legal methods of entry, such as student or touristic visas. Detections of illegal stay are concentrated among countries with more developed economies and those that border third countries of transit or origin. In contrast, the nationalities of detected illegal stayers are much more evenly distributed, mostly reflecting third countries which are either contiguous to the EU or have established diasporas within the EU and nationalities seeking international protection.
In this and recent quarters the most common method for illegally entering the EU was to cross the external border between border crossing points (BCPs). The Greek land border accounted for around 90% of detections of the illegal border-crossing, half of which were Albanian workers who routinely cross the border back and forth each year to exploit seasonal employment opportunities in Greece.
Nevertheless, the Greek land border was still the hotspot for illegal migration into the EU because the remaining half of the detections of illegal border-crossing (9,500) was of migrants intent on transiting Greece to settle in other Member States.
Notwithstanding the general decline in detections, there were two emerging trends in Q2 of 2010: a continued and intensified shift from the Greek sea border to the Greek land border with Turkey, and an increase in the number and proportion of migrants claiming to be from Afghanistan, and to a lesser extent Somalia.
In the beginning of 2009 illegal crossings of the EU external border between Greece and Turkey were divided roughly equally between the land and sea borders. However, there has been a gradual and recently intensified shift to the land border. Reasons for this shift from sea to land borders are linked to the effectiveness of the Frontex activities in the Aegean Sea, combining surveillance activities with identification of illegal migrants, and opening the possibility of return to origin countries for detected migrants. Other possible factors include cheaper facilitation costs, lower risks of injury, and lower detection rates (which render our estimation of the extent of the shift rather conservative) and shorter detention periods at the land border.
Nationals from Afghanistan were increasingly important across most illegal-migration indicators, particularly at the EU land border into Greece where in Q2 of 2010 detections of illegal border-crossing increased six-fold. In addition, they were also the nationality most frequently detected at BCPs, increasingly at German airports on flights from Istanbul, and despite recent decreases they still submitted more asylum claims than any other nationality. Likewise, the number of Afghans detected overstaying has halved over the last year but they are still the third most commonly encountered nationality.
As well as a reduction in the number of asylum applications over the last year or so, there is also some evidence for a recent redistribution of applications among Member States, possibly in response to 1) stricter laws passed in Norway on granting asylum and family reunification, 2) a ruling in the UK stating that the level of ‘indiscriminate violence’ was insufficient to permit Afghans to claim general humanitarian protection in the UK, and 3) the dismantling of makeshift asylum-seeker camps in northern France. These measures may have resulted in some weak dis-placement effects, measureable in terms of slightly increased applications, particularly of Afghans, in other Member States such as Germany.