Migratory Routes

This route, used for many years as an entry path into Europe, saw the continent’s biggest migratory wave since Second World War when 885,000 migrants used it to reach the EU in 2015. Since then the number of irregular arrivals on this route has plunged following the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement in March 2016.

Situation in 2018

In 2018, the Eastern Mediterranean route registered 56 561 illegal border-crossings. The pressure was 34% higher than in the preceding year due to the increase in land crossings from Turkey to Greece.

Syrians were the most commonly detected nationality, followed by Afghans and Iraqis. The number of recorded Turkish migrants more than tripled in 2018 with 7 918 arrivals thereby becoming the fourth most common nationality on this route.

Situation in 2017

At EU’s external border with Turkey, the migratory pressure in 2017 remained roughly on level with the previous year’s figures following the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement. In all of 2017, there were 42 319 detections of illegal border-crossings, both at sea and land borders, less than a quarter of the total in 2016.

Trends prior to 2017

More than 182 000 migrants were detected on the Eastern Mediterranean route in 2016, although a vast majority arrived in the first three months of the year. The number of migrants arriving on the Greek islands in the Eastern Aegean plunged starting in late March 2016, after the EU-Turkey statement that came into force in March 2016, in which Turkey agreed to secure its maritime and land borders and accept the return of irregular migrants from Greece. The statement largely removed the incentive for migrants to take irregular migration routes to Greece and has undermined the business model of people-smuggling networks.

Several measures introduced to prevent illegal border-crossing along the Western Balkan route also discouraged many from making the dangerous sea crossing to reach the Greek Eastern Aegean islands.

In 2015, 885 386 migrants arrived in the EU via the Eastern Mediterranean route – 17 times the number in in 2014, which was itself a record year at the time. Throughout 2015, Frontex deployed an increased number of officers and vessels to the Greek islands to assist in patrolling the sea and registering the thousands of migrants arriving daily. In December, the agency launched Poseidon Rapid Intervention after the Greek authorities requested additional assistance at its borders.

Most of the migrants on this route in 2015 originated from Syria, followed by Afghanistan and Somalia.

Read more in our risk analysis report for 2019.

Frontex supports Greece with border control as part of Operation Poseidon.

Illegal border crossings on the Eastern Mediterranean route in numbers.

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