Migratory Routes

In recent years, the number of irregular migrants detected on the Western Mediterranean route, stretching across the sea between Spain and Morocco, has increased significantly. This path has also been the main route used by criminal networks to smuggle drugs into the Europe.

Situation in 2018

In 2018, the Western Mediterranean became the most frequently used route into Europe. The number of detections in 2018 doubled for the second consecutive year to a record high of 57 034. 

Morocco was the main departure point to Europe for irregular migrants. Most of the migratory pressure registered on this route was linked to migrants originating from sub-Saharan countries. However, towards the end of 2018, the number of Moroccan migrants began to increase. 

Migrants claiming to be minors accounted for 9% of the arrivals on this route. Overall, on both land and sea routes, Moroccans were the top detected nationality, followed by Guineans, Malians and Algerians.

Situation in 2017

The number of migrants detected reaching Spain from northern Africa jumped to 23 063 in 2017.

The situation in the Rif region of Morocco, the main transit country for migrants heading to Spain, created an opportunity for more departures from its western coast in the second half of the year. This was coupled with a growing use of high-capacity boats capable of transporting large numbers of migrants.

Two of every five migrants were nationals of Algeria and Morocco. Most of the remaining people on this route came from Western Africa.

The situation prior to 2017

In 2016, detections of illegal border crossings on the Western Mediterranean route reached almost 10 000. As in the case of the Central Mediterranean route, most migrants were from Africa.

Nevertheless, the situation differed considerably at the land and sea border. At the land borders of Ceuta and Melilla, yearly detections near the fences hit a record low of about 1 000. However, in the last month of 2016, some 400 sub-Saharan African migrants forced their way into Ceuta. Previously sub-Saharans had tended to try and climb over the fence to Melilla.

Detections at the sea border increased to over 8 000 in 2016. The migrants departed from the Moroccan and Algerian coasts towards the southern shores of Spain. Most detections were reported around the Strait of Gibraltar, where the majority of migrants opted for dangerous small rubber dinghies to make the crossing, some equipped with a small engine.

For more information on the route, see our risk analysis report for 2019.

More information about the role of Frontex in Spain.

Illegal border crossings on the Western Mediterranean route (sea and land) in numbers. 

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