Risk Analysis for 2018


In 2017, Member States reported a further drop in the detections of illegal border-crossing along the EU’s external borders, with 204 719 detections recorded that year. This represents a 60 % decrease compared with the 511 047 detections of 2016 (and an 89 % decrease compared with the 1.8 million detections at the height of the migratory crisis in 2015).

This decrease was in particular associated with a significant drop in detections on the Eastern Mediterranean (and secondary to it the Western Balkan route) and on the Central Mediterranean route. The strong rise in detections on the Western Mediterranean route, the displacement effects on the other routes and the absolute number of detections, which exceeds any total recorded in recent history before the year 2014, together indicate that the pressure on the EU’s external border remains high.

The sudden reversal in the numbers of irregular migrants detected on the Central Mediterranean in July 2017 is arguably the most significant development at the EU’s external borders since the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement. The numbers in the first half of 2017 roughly mirrored those reported in 2016 at an elevated level, but in July, mostly due to internal developments in Libya, the numbers dropped suddenly to less than half the level of June. An even more marked relative decrease, to almost a third of that level, was registered in August; the numbers remained at a much lower level throughout the rest of the year. Unrelated to the decrease in departures from Libya, more boats successfully left from the shores of Tunisia and Algeria in the third and forth quarters.

At the EU’s external border with Turkey, the migratory pressure in 2017 remained roughly on a level with the months after the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement.

The number of migrants detected on the Western Mediterranean route hit a new record high in 2017, more than doubling the previous record of last year. While during much of the first half of the year the numbers were on a par with those reported during the last months of 2016, the flow reached a new level in June of the year. Domestic issues in Morocco, the main transit country for migrants heading to Spain, created an opening for more departures from Morocco’s western coast in particular, which starting from the second quarter of the year led to the use of high-capacity boats able to transport large numbers of migrants.

Corresponding to the changes in the migratory routes, the relative share of African nationals increased compared with 2016, driven by fast-growing numbers of migrants from Maghreb countries (notably Moroccans, Algerians and Tunisians) in the latter part of the year. As a result, African nationals accounted for almost two-thirds of irregular migrants arriving at the shores of the EU.

Regional differences are notable, however, as the number of Eastern African nationals fell by a lot more than the relative decline in numbers caused by the curb imposed by developments in Libya would suggest: the numbers of Eritreans, Somalis and Ethiopians for in-stance fell to roughly a fourth of their 2016 numbers.

In 2017, Member States reported a total of 6 700 individuals from third countries who presented themselves with fraudulent documents at BCPs on entry to the EU/ Schengen area. In contrast to the decreasing trend observed at the external EU border, the number of document fraud detections on secondary movements within the EU/Schengen area increased by more than 10 % and reached one of the highest numbers since 2013.

Member States reported a drop in illegal stay between 2016 and 2017, the second year in a row when a decrease in the number of illegal stayers was recorded. This trend mirrored the fall in numbers of illegal border-crossings at the EU’s external borders.

Despite a steady number of return decisions compared with 2016, in 2017 Member States continued to struggle to effectively return those whose asylum application was rejected and who were not granted subsidiary protection status. While the effective returns of European and American migrants stayed roughly on a par with last year, the number of migrants returned to Africa and Asia fell further. Returns to West Africa continue to show the lowest ratio between effective returns and return decisions. In the meantime, the Agency offers Member States increased support in organising return operations, having returned more than 14 000 persons in 2017, which represents a 32 % increase compared with the previous year.

Looking ahead, irregular migration by sea, and more specifically along the Mediterranean routes, will remain the main modus operandi for illegally crossing the EU’s, external borders, and also one of the most dangerous forms of migrant smuggling requiring humanitarian assistance efforts. To tackle this phenomenon, cooperation among maritime security players and the shared use of assets are gaining momentum. Border control authorities are increasingly confronted with the detection of cross-border crimes such as drug trafficking and the smuggling of excise goods, but also the detection of pollution and fisheries issues. While synergies offer opportunities, they also require adaptation and scaling-up of border and coast guard resources.

At the same time, border-control authorities are expected to be increasingly engaged in search and rescue operations covering vast areas of the Mediterranean Sea, as well as being the first point of contact for a growing number of vulnerable persons. The proportion of African migrants, and in particular West African migrants, detected crossing the border illegally is likely to grow.

Swift diversification of modi operandi, displacement between routes or border types, and attempts to evade detection or identification are all likely to occur in response to enhanced surveillance and migration control. While until recently, migrants detected at the border could swiftly continue to their final destinations unhindered, the emerging pattern is that migrants who go undetected can arrive at their destination quickly; it also means that they do not have to bear the consequences of being detected for illegal stay or being refused asylum. Hence, the number of migrants under-taking secondary movements is also expected to rise.

Regular passenger flows across the external border will increase significantly in the coming years due to rising global mobility. Border-control authorities will have to take on more responsibilities as a consequence of visa liberalisation processes and local border traffic agreements. Border management will increasingly be risk-based, to ensure that interventions are focused on the movements of high-risk individuals, while movements of bona fide travellers are facilitated smoothly.

Given the increasing level of security features in modern travel documents and stricter migration policies across Member States, the misuse of genuine travel documents (which includes impersonation and fraudulently obtained documents) is likely to be an entry method which will become more widespread.

Finally, there is an underlying threat of terrorism-related travel movements and it is possible that foreign terrorist fighters use irregular migration routes or facilitation networks.