BRUSSELS – The level of arrivals of irregular immigrants to the European Union has dropped to its lowest level since 2013, the bloc’s border security agency Frontex said.
At the same time, the number of migrants sent back to their country of origin has risen, Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri said at a media conference January 17.
A breakdown of the figures for 2019 indicated that, while overall arrivals at the European Union’s external borders declined 92% from the spike recorded in 2015, that was because of a big cut in migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa to Italy or Spain.
There were sustained numbers of people trying to enter the European Union through Greece, Bulgaria and Cyprus, where border crossings were 46% higher than in 2018. A similar jump was noted for Croatia and Hungary.
Afghans and Syrians were the biggest groups entering the bloc, Leggeri said, explaining that conflict and political instability were driving the influx. Increasingly adverse conditions for Afghans in Iran and Pakistan were also spurring their movement.
Leggeri noted that returns were at a record level, with 15,850 people sent back, many on commercial flights, which he hailed as “an extremely effective” method.
Germany, Italy, France and Belgium topped the EU countries availing themselves of Frontex’s returns operations, with the main countries taking back their nationals being Albania, Tunisia and Georgia.
Leggeri said Frontex’s mission would be significantly beefed up next year when the agency’s first full-time uniformed staff of border and coast guard officers would be deployed.
Leggeri stressed that Frontex would need sufficient funding from the European Union’s 2021-27 budget, which is the subject of heated negotiations between members states.
Some EU countries are balking at how much they would have to pay to cover the $93 billion shortfall over the next seven years to be caused by Britain’s exit from the European Union.