In the third quarter of 2017, the overall number of detected illegal border-crossings at the EU’s external borders fell, which runs counter to the typical quarterly trend. The magnitude of this decrease is highlighted by comparison with the previous quarter (-34%), and the same quarter of 2016 (-40%). It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that the overall migratory pressure at the external borders of the EU has been easing, as all major routes actually registered higher numbers, except for one. The slump in the overall number resulted from a strong fall in detections of migrants arriving in Italy on the Central Mediterranean route, which was only partially compensated by increases on all other major routes. Indeed, the strongest increases in absolute numbers were those on the Eastern Mediterranean (+7 929) and the Western Mediterranean (+2 468) route.
The Central Mediterranean route experienced a noticeable turnaround in Q3 2017, falling to almost one-third of registered detections seen in Q2 2017 showing the lowest number of irregular migrants since the first quarter of 2015. For the first time since the EU-Turkey statement was implemented, the registered numbers on the Central Mediterranean route for August and September fell below those on the Eastern Mediterranean. Whereas the number of migrants arriving in Italy from Libya fell, there were more departures from Algeria and, even more so, from Tunisia (from 295 in Q2 2017 to 1 901 in Q3 2017). As a result, irregular migrants from certain Maghreb states (Tunisia and Algeria) increased their share in the flow.
On the Western Mediterranean route, Moroccans and Algerians made up almost the entirety of the strong increase in the flow (97% of the increase of 2 468 vis-à-vis Q2 2017) to yet another all-time high observed on this route. The 6 668 irregular migrants apprehended represent a relative increase of 123% compared with one year ago, sustained by increases on both the land (+257%) and the sea (+112%) route. A comparison of the number of West Africans registered on this route suggests that a large-scale shift from the Central to the Western Mediterranean route has not occurred.
On the Eastern Mediterranean route, the migratory flow more than doubled in relation to Q2 2017. The 46% increase compared with the same quarter of 2016 was due to both strong increases on the sea (+46%) and on the land (+45%) route. In particular, increases were seen for Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and Turks. Similarly, on the Western Balkan route, a 74% rise in detections compared with Q2 2017 occurred, fuelled mostly by increased numbers of detected Pakistani and Afghan citizens crossing the EU’s external border for the second time.
Finally, the Black Sea route was temporarily used in Q3. Five large fishing boats, launched in Turkey, were intercepted carrying a total of 472 migrants, 435 of which were Iraqis.
Compared with Q3 2016, all FRAN indicators showed decreases. Apart from the fall in illegal border-crossings, the most visible decrease was observed in the number of refusals of entry. However, it was mostly the effect of over 30 000 fewer refusals being issued to Russian citizens, which masked increased refusals for almost all other nationalities.