In 2017 Member States registered a further reduction in the detection of illegal border crossings along the EU external border, nevertheless the pressure on the external border remains high. The number of third country nationals who presented themselves at border checkpoints upon entry to the EU/Schengen area with fraudulent documents has decreased compared to trends registered for movements within the EU. Moreover, Member States recorded a drop in illegal stays compared to the previous year, despite the continuing struggle to effectively return asylum seekers whose application was rejected.
Frontex, in its report published on February, forecasts that migration via Mediterranean Sea routes will remain the main modus operandi for illegal crossing of the EU’s external border. Border control forces will be put under further pressure due to increased engagement in search and rescue operations and increase in passenger flows on the external EU border caused by increased mobility. Finally, due to stricter migration rules, travel with fraudulent documents is likely to become increasingly widespread.
Illegal Border Crossings
For the second consecutive year after 2015, Member States recorded a 60% decrease in illegal border crossing compared to 2016. Such decrease is mostly due to the fewer detections on the Eastern Mediterranean, Western Balkan and Central Mediterranean route. The sudden reversal in numbers, mainly on the Central Mediterranean route, is considered the most significant development for the EU external border since the EU-Turkey agreement. Internal developments in Libya in July 2017 are to blame for this significant drop. In contrast detections on the Western Mediterranean route hit a record high, registering 23,143 people. The aggregate 204,719 detections indicate that the pressure on the EU external border is still high.
About 6700 people from third countries using fraudulent documents to enter the EU/Schengen external border have been detected by Member States, the lowest number since 2012. Despite this, fraud detections within the EU have increased by 9% against the previous year. Istanbul Ataturk Airport and Dakar International Airport remain the top hubs for fraudulent document detections.
Refusal of Entry, Illegal Stayers and Returns
In 2017, a total of 183,548 refusals of entry were recorded by Member States, a 15% drop compared to 2016. While refusals at air and sea borders increased respectively 6% and 19%, land border refusals dropped by 22%. Member states reported illegal stays in line with the lower numbers detected by illegal border crossings. The majority of detections continue to be a result of secondary movements associated with migrants who entered via the Central Mediterranean route. 701,997 applications of international protection were filed to the EU28 plus Norway and Switzerland. On the other hand, return decisions to third countries decreased by 8.6%. However, similar to previous years, the number of return decisions greatly outnumbers actual returns. The main reason for this is the lack of necessary documentation from third country authorities (especially West African countries), furthermore voluntary return decisions rarely occur. This has led to calls for a review of the EU return policy to guarantee an effective implementation of the current EU migration policy. The levels of effective returns in 2017 fell to the lowest levels since 2011.
Trafficking and Counter Terrorism
Counterterrorism is an issue of utmost priority for the EU border force. It is estimated that foreign fighters travelling in and out of the EU’s external border make active use of migrant routes. Checks at the external border of the EU remains one of the main safeguards to protect European citizens. Human trafficking and smuggling of illegal goods such as drugs, weapons and cigarettes remain a threat to the EU.
Frontex: Outlook for 2018
According to Frontex’s predictions for 2018, there will be continued pressure across Southern European migration routes. The numbers of migrants currently stranded in Libya is high and internal developments in the country will be decisive for further arrivals to the external borders of the EU through the Central Mediterranean route. It is likely that detections of irregular migration along the Western Mediterranean route will continue to grow. Mali and Cote d’Iviore are experiencing a heightened level of instability, hence it is likely that traffic in the Western route will intensify. Moreover, increased passenger flows might risk putting the EU border force under more pressure: increased passenger mobility and circulation of fraudulent documents will add to the workload for border staff.
Threats to the EU are hard to predict: unforeseen political developments in third countries or changes in the modus operandi of irregular migration can constitute a further threat to the EU and its citizens.