The European Union’s Frontex border control agency said this week that illegal migrant crossings of the West African route to Spain’s Canary Islands reached a record high this year.

Between January and March, more than 13,500 illegal boat migrants were recorded crossing the Atlantic Ocean from West Africa to the Canary Islands, marking the highest number logged by Frontex during the three-month period since it began collecting such data in 2011.

The European Union’s border control agency said that the majority of illegal arrivals on the Spanish-owned islands came from the African nations of Mali, Senegal, and Mauritania, the EU-funded InfoMigrants website reports.

Meanwhile, illegal crossings also surged along the Eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Greece, with 13,700 arrivals of mostly Afghan, Egyptian, and Syrian migrants recorded in the first three months of the year, meaning that the Eastern route was the most trafficked since the start of the year.

The scale of arrivals has overwhelmed Cyprus to such an extent, that Nicosia announced last week that it would be suspend considering asylum applications from Syrian migrants.

The previous top migrant passageway, the Central Mediterranean route from Northern Africa to Italy and Greece, saw a steep decline, falling to around 11,400 crossings compared to more than double that during the same period last year.

The sharp decline has contributed to a slight overall reduction in attempted illegal entries into the EU this year, with Frontex recording 48,600 “irregular” attempts to enter the bloc, down 12 per cent over last year.

However, despite the reduction in crossings, the Mediterranean is still seeing a high number of deaths, with at least 476 people reported missing in the first three months of the year, according to the UN migration agency, IOM. The actual number of deaths is likely much higher, however, given that many missing migrants go unreported.

Frontex said in a statement: “In recent months criminal groups involved in people smuggling in Mauritania were quick to seize opportunities presented by the increased demand from sub-Saharan migrants transiting their country seeking to enter the European Union via the Canary Islands.

“People smugglers have been cramming an increasing number of migrants onto Cayuco boats, putting the lives of the people on board in even larger danger.”

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