In the fourth quarter of 2016, the number of detections of illegal border-crossing between BCPs at the EU’s external borders dropped to the lowest level since the closure of the Western Balkan route and implementation of the EU-Turkey statement, which curtailed the unhindered migratory flow towards the EU and Schengen area. Compared with the record levels of irregular migration reported one year before, the number of detections at the EU’s external borders in Q4 2016 decreased by 93%. In relation to the previous quarter, which saw a temporary and limited seasonal increase, the number of illegal border-crossings on all routes decreased by 17%.
However, the situation varied between different irregular-migration routes leading towards the EU.
At the EU’s external borders with Turkey, the migratory pressure remained roughly at the same low level as in the second quarter of 2016, when the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement and the closure of the borders in the Western Balkans substantially reduced the number of illegal border-crossings on this route. The most represented nationalities reported in Q4 2016 were Syrian (33%) and Iraqi (13%).
On the Western Balkan route, where most of the migrants re-entered the EU, having originally arrived on the Greek Islands of the Eastern Aegean, irregular migration declined to the lowest level since 2014. During the reference period, the number of illegal border-crossings, primarily from Serbia to Hungary and Croatia, accounted for 75% of what was reported in the previous quarter, and only 1% of the level of Q4 2015.
The level of irregular migration on the Central Mediterranean route in Q4 2016 was more than twice as high as one year before, which meant that once again this route became the most prominent in terms of the number of detections. The winter season and severe sea conditions, which make the crossing considerably more difficult, seemed to have had much lesser impact on the level of irregular migration than in previous years. While in the past the detections of attempts to cross the sea to Italy tended to decrease by more than 50% between the third and fourth quarter, the number only declined by 20% between Q3 and Q4 2016.
Although the number of detections related to Nigerians and Eritreans fell down compared with Q3 2016, these remained the two nationalities most detected on the Central Mediterranean route. Guinean migrants, whose number rose by approximately 30% over the previous quarter, ranked third.
In Q4 2016, the number of detections of illegal border-crossing reported by Spain on the Western Mediterranean route reached its highest level since FRAN data collection began. Over the first nine months of 2016, detections at the Spanish land borders with Morocco only accounted for an average of 7% of this route’s total, yet their share increased to 30% in Q4 2016. This was mostly due to a growing number of migrants who climbed the fences around Ceuta and Melilla in groups in an attempt to enter Spain. The rise was to a large extent associated with Algerian nationals, whose number constituted one-fifth of the total share of all detections on this route.
The two FRAN indicators that showed the largest growth compared with the previous quarter were return decisions and effective returns. The most significant increases in terms of both return indicators were associated with Ukrainian and Moroccan nationals.