Taken as a whole, in Q2 2012, detections of illegal border-crossing were reduced by nearly half compared to the same quarter in 2011 due to the simultaneous effects of the winding down of the Arab Spring and fewer Albanian circular migrants entering Greece. However, detections at the undisputed long-term hot-spot for irregular migration – the Greek land border with Turkey – were some 25% higher than during the same period in 2011 due to increased detections of migrants from Bangladesh and particularly Syria.
Based on detections of illegal border-crossing and on refusals of entry, irregular migration pressure at the external border of the EU in-creased seasonally during the second quarter of 2012. Indeed, the seasonal increase of more than two-thirds in detections of illegal border-crossing was the most significant change in any indicator at the EU level. Other indicators exchanged by the FRAN community, such as detections of facilitators and il-legal stayers, applications for international protection and effective returns, suggested stable or declining trends compared to re-cent reporting periods.
Consistent with the majority of reporting periods either side of the Arab Spring, at the EU level the migrants most commonly detected illegally crossing the external border were from Afghanistan with 20% of the total and a steady trend compared to the year before. Of all detected Afghans, the majority were detected at the land border between Greece and Turkey, and are believed to have been previously resident in Iran, where per-missions to stay have been increasingly revoked. At the EU level, Afghans were also the nationality that (1) submitted the most applications for international protection, mostly in Germany and also with a steady trend; (2) were most often detected during clan-destine entry, mainly into Hungary; (3) were most frequently detected as illegal stayers, primarily at their point of entry – Greece; and (4) were subject to the most decisions to leave – chiefly in Greece.
In contrast to the steady trends reported for the most commonly detected nationality, detections of all other top-six nationalities of illegal border crossers increased compared to a year before. These included: migrants from Bangladesh (+35%), who departed from countries around the Persian Gulf where they had been working legally in the construction business; migrants from Syria (+639%), who do not require visas to enter Turkey and so only needed facilitation from Istanbul in order to reach Greece; and migrants from Somalia (+62%) who were mostly detected arriving at the blue border of Malta on boats from Libya.
Without question in Q2 2012, the most significant development in terms of irregular migration to the EU was increased detections of migrants from Syria where the security situation has progressively deteriorated since the failure of Kofi Annan’s ‘six point’ plan proposed in late March 2012. For example, in Q2 2012 Syrians showed the highest rate of increase in detections of illegal border-crossing, and they were increasingly detected as illegal stayers, in both cases these indicators were almost exclusively reported by Greece. Furthermore, following recent in-creases Syrians were ranked second among applicants for international protection, mostly in Sweden and Germany, where it was recently declared that Syrian nationals claiming for asylum would be automatically granted refugee status. Elsewhere, most EU Member States have refrained from forcibly repatriating Syrians back to their country.
Subsequent to the current reporting period a male migrant claiming to be a Syrian national stated that he arrived in Greece just 24 hours after leaving Syria by using an internal flight in Turkey among his modes of transport, showing how little time could pass between events in Syria and arrivals in Europe. The situation in Syria is likely to remain volatile for the foreseeable future. Currently, there are no plans for multilateral military intervention with sufficient support among the international community. In terms of secondary movements from Greece, Syrians were also detected on exit from Greece and on entry to German, Belgian and Dutch air-ports using counterfeit EU residence permits and forged Greek and Bulgarian travel documents. Consistent with other nationalities entering via Greece, Syrians were also increasingly detected in the Western Balkans especially at the Croatia-Serbia border.
Other nationalities were also detected making secondary movements from Greece. For example, Afghans were the most commonly detected nationality in the Western Balkans most of whom are assumed to have originally entered the EU in Greece. At the Romanian border with Serbia detections increased more than five-fold since the same period last year, mainly of Algerians and Moroccans also making secondary movements from Greece. Many more migrants were detected attempting clandestine entry having crossed the Western Balkans, which suggests that this is becoming the modus operandi of choice for over-land secondary movements. As mentioned in previous FRAN quarterlies, the detections in the Greek-Turkish land border also have a direct impact on detections in the Ionian Sea. In 2011, it was estimated that more than 15% of migrants reported at the Greek-Turkish land border were detected soon after in Apulia and Calabria.
At the EU level, the second most affected border section after the Greek-Turkish border was the Greek-Albanian border. Albanian circular migrants were detected crossing the border illegally and, increasingly, using counterfeit border-crossing stamps to fabricate travel histories and extend periods of stay. The sharp increase in detections of this modus operandi by Greece rendered Albanians the nationality most commonly detected with fraudulent documents at the external EU border. Other important trends in document abuse to enter from a third country included Pakistanis mostly detected in Greece, followed by migrants from Morocco mostly detected in Spain, and Nigerians mostly detected in France. Overall there was an increase in the use of forged passports (British followed by French) and visa fraud continued to decline, possibly in anticipation of the Visa Information System.
In the Central Mediterranean, where detections peaked in 2011 during the Arab Spring, migrants from Somalia were increasingly detected in Malta. Specifically, in May 2012 the arrival of Somali migrants in Malta increased significantly while Italy registered a decrease in the number of Somali migrants apprehended in Sicily and the Pelagic Islands. The detected Somalis were mainly young males many of whom had been imprisoned by police or military forces during their travels through Libya. Taking into account the professional planning of the trips, it is assumed that the modus operandi has changed and that Malta is now targeted on purpose, thereby replacing Italy as the preferred destination country for this nationality. The reason for this change has not yet been confirmed; however, in the past Malta resettled some Somali migrants in the United States and in some EU Member States, which might be acting as a pull factor. Also, there is some evidence that facilitation networks located in Malta have tried to forward migrants to Sicily.
Elsewhere, the external borders were affected by migrants both from far afield as well as mi-grants from neighbouring regions. For example, the Western Balkans route was affected by secondary movements of migrants from Algeria and Afghanistan and also by local mi-grants from Serbia; the Eastern land borders were increasingly affected by long-distance migrants from Afghanistan and Somalia but also local migrants from Moldova and increasingly from Georgia.
The Western Mediterranean route was apparently dominated by local migrants from Morocco and Algeria but with large numbers of unknown nationalities it is assumed that local migrants were also accompanied by long-distance migrants probably from sub-Saharan Africa. In this region there was a new modus operandi involving facilitators dropping off migrants in the Chafarinas Islands, a Spanish archipelago 2 nautical miles away from the Moroccan coastline.
The sharpest increase in refusals of entry was for Georgian nationals at the Polish border with Belarus (+236 % increase compared to Q1 2012 and a +162% increase compared to the same quarter a year ago). In a similar pattern observed in 2009, this increase corresponds to an increase in asylum applications of Georgian nationals in Poland. This phenomenon is likely to lead to an increase in Georgians staying illegally in other Member States, in particular Sweden and Germany. The East-ern Borders also continued to be the region most affected by cross-border crime. For ex-ample, smuggling of cigarettes, petrol, drugs and other excise goods constitute the main challenges to effective border management at this section of the border. The exit of vehicles stolen within the European Union en route to destinations in the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Central Asia is also a major concern. In early July 2012, authorities in Slovakia also discovered a 700-metre-long tunnel leading from the western Ukrainian city of Uzhorod into Slovak territory used for the smuggling of cigarettes. The tunnel was a sophisticated construction and contained a rudimentary railway line for swift transportation under the border.