European border agency Frontex recorded a sharp increase in migrants hoping to enter the EU last month, German media reported Sunday.
The spike comes after coronavirus lockdowns and widespread border closures cut the number of potential asylum-seekers able to reach Europe. As a result, traffic along the continent's main migration routes reached record lows in April.
In May, there were almost 4,300 illegal border crossings, newspapers from the Funke Media Group reported, citing figures from Frontex. That's almost three times as many compared to the previous month.
The EU's asylum agency has previously warned that the pandemic could ultimately trigger more arrivals in the future — particularly if it leads to food shortages and more turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa.
"The risk of destabilizing effects resulting from COVID-19 outbreaks have the potential to affect future asylum trends," the EASO agency said in a report last month.
Moreover, the head of Frontex Fabrice Legger told Funke that a new escalation could develop on the Greek-Turkish border, if Istanbul were to free up crossings as it did in late February. Back then, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened his country's borders with the EU open, over disagreements with the bloc, which caused a flood of refugees at the Greek border.
"In recent months, Turkish border police shot at least five times in the direction of Greece at Evros, though nobody was injured," Legger said in regard to increasing tensions.
The Frontex chief said that if a "crisis situation" develops, the agency could send up to 1500 officials to Greece, 900 more than are already stationed.
Overall numbers also lower in 2020
Over the first five months of the year, Frontex registered a total of 31,600 unauthorized crossings, marking a 6% drop compared to the same period last year, the Funke report said.
Along the busiest migration route to Europe, via Turkey and Greece, 12,700 cases were recorded between January and May — 28% fewer than last year. Most of the migrants were from Afghanistan.
Around 3,700 people also traveled from Morocco to Spain across the Mediterranean, a drop of over 50%.
But other routes actually saw more traffic. For example, more than 6,900 people came along the Western Balkan route in the first five months of 2020, a 50% increase over the same period last year.
Between January and May, almost three times as many people also came from Libya and Tunisia across the Mediterranean to Italy and Malta compared to the same period in 2019.
Most of those migrants came from Bangladesh, Sudan and the Ivory Coast.
nm/mm (AFP, dpa)