The fourth quarter of 2013 was characterised by the highest number of detections of illegal border-crossing of all fourth quarters since 2009. Specifically, the number of detections in the Central Mediterranean was more than four times higher than in Q4 2012. However, as in most previous years, detections on this route decreased between Q3 and Q4 due to the onset of the winter season rendering sea crossing more difficult.
In a tragic accident on 3 October 2013, more than 360 migrants died when a wooden boat capsized near Lampedusa. The tragedy took place when migrants lit a fire to draw the attention of nearby vessels after the satellite telephone provided by the facilitation network had failed to work. The fire got out of control and panic erupted on board. A search-and-res-cue operation initiated by an emergency call of a nearby fishing boat mobilised all maritime on-duty assets in the region. Emergency services managed to rescue 158 migrants, but the remaining passengers, mostly Somalis and Eritreans, died during the accident. According to the investigations, the country of embarkation of the migrant boat was Libya. A Tunisian national, the alleged captain of the boat, was later arrested by the Italian police.
The accident did not deter other migrants staying in Northern Africa to set sail to the EU, as in October, the number of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa detected in the Central Mediterranean remained comparable to the level in September. After a temporary de-crease in November 2013, figures in December were again substantially higher than usually during the winter season, although weather and sea conditions in the Central Mediterranean were not encouraging to cross on that route. According to reports, deteriorating living conditions particularly in Libya acted as a pull factor for migration to Italy. The majority of African irregular migrants detected along the Central Mediterranean route were Eritreans.
A relatively new phenomenon is the growing presence of Gambian irregular migrants, detections of whom increased for the sixth consecutive quarter and exceeded 1 300 in Q4 2013, while back in Q4 2011 there had been no Gambians detected in the Central Mediterranean.
Many of the nationalities detected in the Central Mediterranean in Q4 2014 were subsequently also detected on intra-Schengen flights leaving Italy towards northern Europe, most commonly on the route from Malpensa to Copenhagen. The most commonly detected nationalities included migrants from Eritrea, Somalia and Syria, many of whom then submitted asylum claims in Sweden.
In comparison to last winter, Syrians had also significant impact on the situation on the Central Mediterranean route. The number of Syrians escaping the armed conflict in their country and detected on this route grew from just 96 in the last quarter of 2012 to a massive 3 432 a year later, thus closely following Eritreans as the most detected nationality in the Central Mediterranean. Migrant interviews conducted during the JO Hermes suggest that the increasing pressure on Syrian refugees in Egypt may prompt them to consider departure from the country via Libya to Europe.
Overall, Syrians were the most commonly detected nationality, both at the sea and land border of the EU. With over 3 000 detections, the largest share of Syrians illegally crossing the EU external border was reported between Turkey and Bulgaria. This section of the green border has not only seen four consecutive increases since Q4 2012, but also the largest rise in absolute numbers.
Simultaneously, Syrian migrants represented the highest share of persons detected for illegal stay and clandestine entry. Moreover, Syrians showed to be the largest group among migrants submitting asylum applications in the EU. The armed conflict in Syria has for example resulted in Bulgaria increasingly becoming a destination country. Since Q4 2012 overall applications in Bulgaria have increased fivefold, and over three-quarters of all applications made there in Q4 2013 were submitted by Syrians. Hence, except for a few seasonal short-term variations, all indicators have been showing a clear upward trend since 2011 and made Syrians the most commonly reported nationality regarding irregular migration to the EU.
Overall number of asylum applications was steadily increasing throughout 2013, reaching almost 100 000 in the final quarter of the year, which was the highest number since the FRAN data collection began. Remarkable in this regard is a growing concentration of applications submitted by some of the most represented nationalities: if the asylum seekers from Syria and the Horn of Africa were excluded, the numbers in Q4 2013 would be lower both in comparison to the previous year and to the previous quarter.
Of all nationalities in the Horn of Africa, Eritreans had the largest effect on the total number and the percentage increase of asylum applications. In the fourth quarter of 2013, the number of Eritreans applying for asylum reached a record number of more than 7 000 applicants. Moreover, Member States reported a 14% increase in Somali asylum applicants in comparison to Q4 2012.
Western Balkan nationals seeking international protection in the EU showed a diverse picture in Q4 2013: with 12 446 applicants, the total number of asylum seekers from the Western Balkans (excluding Kosovo*) has been the highest since the introduction of visa-free travel in December 2009 and 2010. In some countries, however, the measures introduced to discourage people from abusing the receiving countries’ asylum systems appear to have been effective. Compared to Q4 2012, numbers of asylum seekers from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro decreased by almost 10%, with Serbian nationals alone submitting over 500 fewer applications. On the other hand, asylum applications submitted by nationals of Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia grew by 76% and 20%, respectively.
Since 2009, a rising share of asylum seekers from the Western Balkans has been choosing Germany as a host country. While in 2010 a third of the visa-free nationals targeted Germany, during the reference period more than three-quarters submitted their asylum application in that country. This is particularly true for asylum seekers from Serbia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, of whom 86% and 91%, respectively, sought international protection in Germany in Q4 2013. There was a general increase in the share of applications received by the cur-rent top asylum destinations. The proportion of EU overall asylum applications registered by Germany, Sweden and the UK grew from 35% in Q4 2009 to 60% in Q4 2013.
In addition, while most Albanian asylum seekers choose Germany as a destination country, Greece was the country reporting the largest number of Albanians staying illegally. Also detections of illegal border-crossing at the Greek land border with Albania increased by a third compared to the previous quarter, although the situation improved in December 2013. Since they were granted visa-free access to the Schengen area, Albanians have also been increasingly detected using fraudulent documents (counterfeit border-crossing stamps) in two distinct contexts: to fabricate travel histories for multiple and extended stays in Greece, and to enter the UK from the Schengen area. In both cases their detections steadily decreased in 2013, including the final quarter of the year, although Albanians are still among the most commonly detected nationalities using document fraud to travel to and within the EU.