Immigration to Europe in 2022 continues to travel over dangerous routes to reach Europe because of irregular flow during the COVID-19 pandemic

FREMONT, CA: Illegal immigration to the EU has significantly increased in 2022, according to Frontex, the EU border agency. This indicates that some trends from 2021 are still present, with migrants continuing to travel over dangerous routes to reach Europe.

According to Frontex, around 13,000 unauthorised border crossings into the EU occurred in January. This represents an increase of 78 per cent and 23 per cent, respectively, over January 2021 and January 2020. Those statistics alone should not come as much of a surprise, given irregular migratory flows have rebounded far more quickly than other flows in the wake of border controls imposed during the COVID-19 outbreak. While border closures undoubtedly have an impact on the literal mobility of irregular migrants in a variety of ways, irregular migration is almost by definition outside of the regular management by states. As a result, this kind of movement is less susceptible to being stopped by bureaucratic bottlenecks or lengthy visa wait times.

However, it seems that unauthorised immigration to Europe is rising. According to Frontex data, irregular migration is still at levels that haven't been seen in a while. The number of border crossings in 2021 was higher than it had been since 2017 and considerably beyond the levels recorded during the pandemic. Based on the data collected so far for 2022, this trend may certainly persist. It is quite concerning that traffic on some of the most dangerous routes continues to be higher than on less risky routes.

The number of passengers travelling on the Central Mediterranean route, typically from North Africa to Italy, and the Western Atlantic route, typically from West or North Africa to Spain's Canary Islands, rose by around 100 per cent and 50 per cent, respectively, in comparison to January 2021. The sharp spike in these two dangerous crossings, combined with a far more moderate increase for the Eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to Greece across the considerably narrower Aegean Sea, is most likely a result of harsher policing actions implemented by the Greek police in the Aegean.

For a long time, the route through the Eastern Mediterranean saw the most attempts to cross borders. However, around the time of the pandemic, Greece's newly elected right-wing government started to crack down on irregular migration, and there have been credible reports of dangerous and violent "pushbacks" by Greek police in the Aegean. In the past two years, the number of crossings on this road has drastically decreased.

Other causes, including escalating violence and pandemic-related poverty and instability in North Africa, may also be to blame for the rise along the dangerous routes. However, it seems likely that as word of a more challenging border crossing between Greece and Turkey spreads among migrant communities, more people are choosing to take risky paths to reach Europe. Although Cyprus has toughened border controls and started pushing back against migrants, Frontex says that more people are arriving in Cyprus from Turkey as well, which supports the concept that people are using alternative routes.

The recently-emerging Eastern route has experienced a sizable reduction since last year, in contrast to the gains observed on the southern borders of the EU. The EU and Belarus are still at odds over this route, which mainly entails migrants travelling from Belarus into Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. The EU accuses Belarus of purposefully sending migrants into the EU to politically destabilise the union. More border walls are being built by Poland and its EU neighbours, and it has been said that many individuals are detained there for fear of violence, terrible cold, and poverty. Additionally, it should be remembered that compared to other routes, the actual number of people entering the EU through its eastern borders is quite low. This debate may be quietly resolved, but probably not to the benefit of those stuck at the border, given the drop in traffic along this route and the current dominance of news over the prospect of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.