In the first four months of this year so many illegal immigrants crossed the Mediterranean and entered one of the EU member states that the number is already close to the 2013 total and is likely to rise as summer weather brings calmer seas, officials from the European Union’s border agency Frontex told the New York Times.
The total so far for 2014 is more than the equivalent period in 2011, the year of the Arab Spring, which eventually saw 140,000 make clandestine crossings into Europe. Officials said the number of people attempting the sea crossing from North Africa to Italy rose sharply during January to April, when 42,000 migrants were detected on these routes, with 25,650 of these crossing from Libya, according to a BBC report.
Combined with seven other less busy routes, the total figure for this year is probably now about 60,000.
This follows publication of Frontex’s annual report which showed that illegal border crossings increased sharply in 2013, rising to over 107,000 from 75,000 in 2012, with the greatest number of illegal migrants being Syrians, Eritreans and Afghans.
The number of Syrians detected at the borders of EU member states accounted for almost a quarter of all arrivals in 2013 and at 25,500 was almost three times the 2012 figure.
While Syrians and Egyptians departed for Italy primarily from Egypt in 2013, migrants from the Horn of Africa and West Africa departed mostly from Libya.
According to Frontex, to reach Italy, migrants from the Horn of Africa typically used a perilous route across the Sahara, travelling onward through Libya. In 2013, over 40,000 made this crossing, “38 per cent of all detections of irregular migration at EU level.”
This number will surge even more if Libya’s interior minister, Salah Mazek, carries out a threat he made earlier this month when he said his country could “facilitate” the crossing of the thousands of people waiting in Libya to cross to Europe.
According to a report on al-Jazeera, he told a press conference on May 10: “With regards to illegal immigration, I am warning the world, and the European Union in particular, that if they do not shoulder the responsibility with us, the state of Libya will take a position on this matter that could facilitate the quick passage of this flood of people through Libya since God has made us a transit point for this flood.”
He said Libya was “suffering” because thousands of mainly sub-Saharan Africans were spreading disease, crime and drugs in the North African nation: “Libya has paid the price. Now it’s Europe’s turn to pay.”
On the Western Mediterranean route, numbers of illegal migrants at the Greek borders with Turkey in 2013 were at their lowest level in five years though this route still accounted for almost a quarter of all detections in the EU.
At 19,000, the number of illegal migrants at the border between Hungary and Serbia was almost three times that of a year earlier and according to Frontex “made the Western Balkan route the number-three hot spot for illegal border crossings in Europe.”