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Irregular migration into EU lowest since 2013

Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency says that there was a 6% fall in illegal border crossings along the EU’s external borders in 2019, meaning that irregular migration hit its lowest point since 2013. On the other hand, pressure grew on the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Balkan routes.

Migrants on the Hungarian-Serbian border in 2015 (Image: Fotosr52 /

The agency says that the cause behind the decrease is a drop in the number of people reaching European shores via the Central and Western Mediterranean routes. Preliminary 2019 data collected by Frontex shows that illegal border crossings along the EU’s external borders fell to a bit more than 139,000. This is 92% below the record number set in 2015.

The number of illegal migrants coming through the Central Mediterranean fell approximately 41% to around 14,000. Nationals of Tunisia and Sudan made up the largest share of detections on this route.

The total number of irregular migrants detected in the Western Mediterranean fell by about 58% to around 24,000, with Moroccans and Algerians accounting for the largest percentage.

Numbers up on Eastern Mediterranean, Western Balkan route

The agency says that contrary to the general downward trend, the Eastern Mediterranean route saw growing migratory pressure starting in the spring. The pressure reached its peak in September, before falling in accordance with the seasonal trend. In all of 2019, there were more than 82,000 irregular migrants detected on this route, roughly 46% more than in 2018.

In the second half of last year, irregular arrivals in the region were at the highest since the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement in March 2016, Frontex says. Still, the number stayed below the record figures of 2015 and early 2016.

There has been an increase in detections on the Greek-Albanian border after the start of the Frontex joint operation in May, possibly due to migrants transferring to the Western Balkan route. In the second half of 2019, a significant number of detections were reported on EU borders with Serbia.

Pressure also grew on the Western Balkan route, with about 14,000 irregular crossings reported, which is more than twice as high as the 2018 figure.

On the Eastern Mediterranean route and Western Balkan routes, nationals of Afghanistan and Syria accounted for more than 50% of all registered irregular arrivals.