Europe’s migratory situation: Irregular crossings down 12% in first quarter


The number of irregular border crossings into the European Union in the first three months of 2024 was down 12% due to a significant drop in arrivals via the Central Mediterranean, according to preliminary calculations. The Central Mediterranean was the only major sea route to see a drop in detections of irregular crossings (-59%), while the Western African and Eastern Mediterranean routes experienced large increases (+510% and +109%, respectively).

The Central Mediterranean route, which saw the highest number of irregular crossings on all migratory routes into the EU in 2023, continued to show a downward trend from recent months, with around 6 700 detections In March. This brought the total for the first quarter to nearly 11 400. This is 59% lower than the figure for the same period of 2023.

The Eastern Mediterranean edged out the Western African route as the most active path into the EU for irregular migrants in the first quarter, with the number of detections more than doubling to just above 13 700.

Meanwhile, the Western African route continued to post record numbers, with arrivals between January and March reaching over 13 500. This was the highest total for the first three months of the year since Frontex began collecting data in 2011.

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.

Frontex remains committed to safeguarding the EU's borders, with nearly 2700 officers and staff engaged in various operations.

Key highlights for the first two months of 2024 include:

  • Central Mediterranean saw a 59% drop (y/y) in detections, highest among major migratory routes into the EU.
  • Western Balkans also continued to see significantly lower numbers (-64%).
  • Western African route recorded the biggest rise.
  • Arrivals more than doubled Eastern Mediterranean.
  • Top three nationalities on all routes this year: Syria, Mali and Afghanistan.

Sea crossings remain extremely dangerous for the people undertaking irregular migration. Data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) indicates that 476 people have been reported missing in the Mediterranean so far this year. The vast majority of them were navigating the perilous Central Mediterranean route.

During the January-March period, authorities reported nearly 5 500 detections of irregular border crossings on the Western Balkan route, down 64% from a year ago.

On the Channel route, the number of detections increased by 56% to 11 635 in the first three months of the year, despite often difficult weather conditions that endanger the lives of the people seeking to reach the UK.