During the final quarter of 2012, several FRAN indicators varied radically compared to previous reporting periods. For example, there were just 13 613 detections of illegal border-crossing at the EU level, which is the lowest ever recorded figure for any quarter since data collection began in early 2008. In contrast, both clandestine entries and asylum applications were at by far their highest levels since data collection began and, although falling slightly compared with the previous quarter, refusals of entry at the external border remained at one of the highest levels since 2009.
The reason for fewer detections of illegal border-crossing were the combined deter-rent effects of the Greek operation Aspida, which involved the deployment of large numbers of additional police officers to the Greek land border with Turkey, and also the Greek operation Xenios Zeus that targeted irregular migrants in Athens and other urban areas.
The widespread effects of these operations are demonstrable with analyses of FRAN indicators. For example, detections of illegal border-crossing at the Greek land border with Turkey fell from being an undisputed hot-spot for illegal entries during the first half of 2012, to almost negligible levels during the final quarter of the year. Detections of all nationalities fell to almost the same degree, which suggests that the effect was due to decreased vulnerability at the border, rather than changes to a push factor.
Following the Greek operation Xenios Zeus, the number of effective returns performed by Greece increased dramatically in Q4 2012, particularly of nationalities previously associated with detections of illegal border-crossing.
The well-publicised operations were also followed by increased detections away from the operational areas, which probably represent displacement effects away from the Greek land border with Turkey. These included in-creased detections of:
1. illegal border-crossing at the Greek sea border with Turkey;
2. illegal border-crossing at the Bulgarian land border with Turkey;
3. document fraudsters on flights from Istanbul, rather than Athens.
Despite the effect of these operations in reducing detections at the Greek land border with Turkey, there is currently no evidence to suggest that the absolute flow of irregular migrants arriving to the region has de-creased in any way, although it’s reasonable to assume that this may occur in the medium-term. Instead, reports suggest that migrants are currently waiting in Turkey, with some nationalities starting to integrate with Turkish society, while others consider alternative migration options. Moreover, most routes of secondary movements from Greece did not show signs of significant decline. These included detections of:
1. Afghans and Pakistanis as illegal border-crossers and clandestine entries across the Western Balkan region;
2. Afghans and Pakistanis arriving in Calabria and Apulia on pleasure boats from Greece;
3. fraudulent document-users on intra-Schengen flights from Greece (declining trend).
Elsewhere of the Eastern Mediterranean, there were more detections of illegal border-crossing on the main Central Mediterranean route from North Africa than during any other quarter of 2012, mostly Eritreans, Somalis and Gambians departing from Libya, followed by Tunisians and Egyptians departing from their own countries. These journeys are increasingly dangerous because many arrived on very flimsy and often unseaworthy vessels due to the reported reduced availability of sturdy boats in Libya. Also significant to the safety of the migrants is the poor treatment they received from facilitators, who leave them uniformed and poorly equipped.
Across a wide range of indicators, irregular migration of Syrian migrants increased more than any other nationality during the final quarter of 2012, hence reflecting their desperate plight. For example, detections of Syrians illegally crossing the external border doubled to 1 200 in Q4 2012, mostly in Greece and, to a lesser extent, in Bulgaria, where they were also increasingly subject to decisions to leave. Also at the external border, Syrians were increasingly detected using fraudulent documents, such that they were ranked top among all nationalities, mostly de-parting from Istanbul. One result of the large flow of Syrian migrants across the border was a massive influx of Syrian asylum applications, which increased threefold to nearly 9 000, mostly in final destination countries such as Sweden and Germany. In fact 11% of all asylum applications in Q4 2012 were sub-mitted by Syrians, amounting to more applications submitted by a single nationality in any given quarter since data collection began for this indicator.
With an overwhelming 31% of all applications submitted in the EU/Schengen area and following nearly a 43% increase compared to the previous quarter, Germany received by far the most applications for international protection and more than reported by any Member State in a single quarter since data collection began in early 2008.
Of all nationalities migrants from Afghanistan continued to represent the largest pro-portion of the threat of irregular migration to the EU in Q4 2012. For instance, Afghans ranked first among nationalities for illegal border-crossing and illegal stay both mostly in Greece, clandestine entries at BCPs mostly in Slovenia. As well as these indicators of irregular migration, migrants from Afghanistan also ranked second for asylum applications mostly in Germany.
The use of fraudulent documents continued to increase during the last few months of 2012. This was particularly the case for Albanian migrants who were the nationality most frequently detected using fraudulent documents at the external border. Specifically, they were using counterfeit border-crossing stamps to fabricate travel history and extend periods of stay. In this case they were nearly exclusively detected on entry at the Greek-Albanian land border. Albanians were also the nationality most commonly detected with fraudulent documents between the Schengen area and the UK sometimes via Ireland. In this case they were detected on flights arriving in the UK but also while at-tempting to board flights leaving Italy and other Schengen states.Refusals of entry were at an exceptionally high level in Q4 2012, with about 60% of refusals being from the land border and most of the remainder being from the sea border. As is usually the case, Poland refused the most migrants. The two most common refusal phenomena were Ukrainian nationals refused entry at the Polish land border with Ukraine, followed by Georgians refused entry at the Polish land border with Belarus. Ranked third was Albanians refused entry at the Greek land border with Albania. In total these three phenomena accounted for nearly a third of all refusals of entry at the EU level.