Irregular migrant numbers to EU drop by half

19.04.13 @ 09:21

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
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BRUSSELS - The number of people trying to get into the EU dropped by around a half in 2012, the EU's border agency said Thursday (18 April).

  • The number of people attempting dangerous sea crossings into Europe has increased (Photo: Paul Keller)

The Warsaw-based Frontex says some 73,000 people were detected in 2012, down from around 114,000 the year before.

“This was the first time since systematic data collection began in 2008 that annual detections have plunged under 100,000,” said its annual report.

The greatest decrease was noted along the Greek-Turkish land border. The border is a favoured entry point into greater Europe with thousands of migrants wading across the Evros River every week during the first eight months of 2012.

Pashalis Syritoudis, director of police in Orestiadas near the Turkish border, told EUobserver in November around 6,500 migrants passed the border in July 2012.

“In August, we had only 1,800. In September, only 71 illegal immigrants, in October only 26 and now there are none,” he said.

The drop followed the erection of a 10.5 kilometer barbed-wire fence, which closed off a loop where the river bends into Turkey.

An additional 1,881 Greek border guards coordinated by Frontex were also deployed with specialised equipment in the Evros border region.

The barrier and the extra guards lead to other migrants taking the more treacherous sea route through the Aegean Sea.

Detections in the Aegean Sea, between Turkey and Greece, increased by 912 percent with the trend starting in September. Reports of bodies washing up on the beaches of the Greek islands began to emerge.

An undocumented migrant from Cameroon in Istanbul told EUobserver some of his friends attempted the sea crossing but he never heard from them again. “It is too dangerous,” he said.

Others sought a safer but longer route through Bulgaria, taking the Western Balkan route in the hopes of reaching a border-free member state.

Meanwhile, Frontex says migrants in Turkey may be waiting for the end of the Greek operation as people smugglers seek alternative routes.

“Although the flow abruptly stopped in August 2012, there are reports of uncertainties related to the sustainability of the efforts and growing evidence that migrants are waiting in Turkey for the end of the operation,” notes the agency.

The agency has come under criticism for neglecting human rights in its coordinating efforts to detect irregular migrants.

The Council of Europe (CoE) – a human rights watchdog in Strasbourg – in early April said Frontex lacks transparency, “unclear responsibility and accountability, and lack of democratic scrutiny, particularly of agreements with third countries.”

The agency last year created a Consultative Forum on Fundamental Rights and established a fundamental rights officer.

The forum is mandated to advise Frontex’s management board and its secretariat on how to prevent human rights violations during border control operations. It has no investigative powers.

But the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee has since requested Frontex improve its search and rescue operations and has docked almost €10 million of its 2013 budget “until practical steps are taken."

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