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Migrant crossings into Europe fall by 13%

January 9, 2021

Fewer people attempted to enter the EU without authorization in 2020, largely due to coronavirus restrictions, the bloc's border agency said. Syrian were again the largest group of people trying to enter the bloc.

Three men walk towards a mountain
Frontex detected less migrant children crossing the borders in 2020Image: Idro Seferi

The European Union last year recorded the lowest number of detected "illegal migrants" crossing its external borders since 2013, the bloc's border agency, Frontex, said in a statement on Friday. 

Frontex said the numbers from 2020 represented a 13% drop compared to the previous year, with 124,000 crossing attempts — largely due to the impact of coronavirus restrictions.  

"Syrians remained the most frequently reported nationality in 2020, followed by Moroccans, Tunisians and Algerians," Frontex said, adding that more than 80% of them were men.  

The agency's data shows the number of attempts, not the number of migrants, since one person can attempt to cross multiple times. 

The route where people typically attempt to enter Europe from Turkey through Greece, saw the biggest drop in unauthorized crossings with 70% less traffic there in 2020 than in 2019. 

The eastern Mediterranean route, which runs from North Africa to Italy or Malta, recorded a 29% decline in crossing attempts.  

However, Frontex reported an increase in traffic through the West Africa, central Mediterranean and Western Balkans routes.   

There were 22,600  attempted crossings into European borders from West Africa through the Canary Islands in 2020 — eight times more than in 2019. At least 2,300 displaced people in November were crammed into tents on Spain's Canaries that were intended for no more than a few hundred people

Canary Islands become refugee hotspot

The most active route in 2020 was through the central Mediterranean, with more than 35,600 attempts to cross into Europe, three times more than the year before.  

On the Western Balkan route, the number of crossing also increased by 75%, with around 27,000 attempts.   

Surge in France

Meanwhile, France recorded a fourfold increase in the number of attempted crossings of the English Channel to Britain, compared to 2019. 

"In 2020, 868 incidents involving attempts or crossings of migrants by boat were recorded in the Channel, involving 9,551 migrants," a French maritime official said on Friday.  

Migrants typically attempt to cross the Channel, following the notion that Britain will easily grant them asylum or residency or to reunite with people already there.  

In November, Britain and France signed a deal to increase security presence on the route, with radar and drones, to curb crossing attempts.  

The president of the Auberge des Migrants association, Francois Guennoc, said smugglers change their strategies according to new policies, averting detection.  

More people were choosing to go through the sea route as authorities were increasingly detecting people hiding between trucks en route to Britain, Guennoc said.  

French border police patrol English Channel

French humanitarian groups have said that police were consistently tearing down tents where more than 1,000 migrants were crammed near the northern French port of Calais. 

In 2015, more than 1 million people fled conflict in Syria and Iraq, causing one of Europe's most prominent political crises. 

fb/sms (AFP, AP, DPA)