Despite new fences and controversial cooperation to ward off migrants, illegal border crossings into the European Union have increased significantly in 2022.
In the first eleven months of this year, the EU border protection agency Frontex registered around 308,000 attempts to enter the EU without permission. Frontex announced this week that this was an increase of 68 percent compared to the same period last year. The Warsaw-based authority spoke of the highest value in the first eleven months since 2016.
Europe is reacting to the trend and is trying to isolate itself. Human rights activists accuse the continent of double standards: While war refugees from Ukraine are willingly taken in, others in need of help are turned away at the external borders, sometimes with brutal measures. "Tragically, far too many are still dying at sea looking for protection," says the UN refugee agency in an appeal to the EU. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) complained: "Rejections and abuse at land borders continue and many people seeking protection are not allowed to enter Europe."
The increasingly dramatic consequences of climate change, the global effects of the Ukraine war, including energy and food crises, armed conflicts, poverty and persecution: many reasons drove people to leave their homes in Africa, the Middle East or Southeast Asia in 2022 and to look for a to seek a better life.
Some European heads of government want to seal off the EU's external borders even more. Italy's ultra-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni proposed this year a sea blockade in the Mediterranean and camps in North Africa where migrants are taken to check their chances of asylum in Europe. Austria's Chancellor Karl Nehammer is calling on the European Union to finance border fences in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary to prevent illegal immigration. "We finally have to break the taboo fences," he said at the EU summit in Brussels this week.
This Sunday, December 18th, is International Migrants Day. An annual overview of migration routes to Europe:
According to Frontex figures, around 140,000 migrants reached Central Europe illegally via the Balkans and countries of the former Yugoslavia by November. That was two and a half as many as in 2021 and the highest value since the refugee crisis of 2015. The Western Balkans route is the most active for refugees and migrants to the EU. Austria's Prime Minister Nehammer claimed that 75,000 people had come to Austria without being registered - he did not give an exact period for the information.
Greece also reports for its borders that the number of refugees and migrants that have arrived has risen sharply. As of mid-December, around 17,000 migrants arrived, more than in 2021, when there were a good 9,100, as documented by the UNHCR. At the same time, Athens is arming itself powerfully to ward off migrants and is thus also causing fierce criticism. Greek border guards and Frontex people patrol the coasts of the Greek islands that lie close to Turkey's west coast; Human rights organizations repeatedly accuse Athens of illegal "pushbacks," i.e. rejections.
Greece says it only protects national and EU borders. At the northern border river Evros, a good 36,000 illegal crossings were prevented in August alone, the government said. In total, around 5,000 migrants made it across the river this year. The Greeks are expanding the 35-kilometer border fence by 80 kilometers - by the end of the project, the border with Turkey will be almost completely sealed off.
In divided Cyprus, the number of border crossings increased significantly. Around 17,000 migrants were registered by the Ministry of the Interior by the end of October - most of them come from the Turkish northern part of the island. According to "Cyprus Mail", around 7,000 people were sent back to their countries of origin.
By far the most boat migrants arrived in southern Italy. By mid-December, the Ministry of the Interior in Rome counted more than 98,000 people who reached the Italian coasts via the central Mediterranean route - in the same period in 2021 it was just over 63,000. The people are a thorn in the side of the newly elected right-wing government, and Rome is also taking action against civilian sea rescuers and has recently indicated defensive measures. At the beginning of November, a scandal broke out when two NGO ships were only allowed to bring rescued people ashore in Italian ports after a delay.
Meloni would like to prevent the wooden and rubber boats in which many migrants head for southern Italy from leaving. Human Rights Watch (HRW) accuses the EU of trying this now: Because Frontex gives the Libyan coast guard the GPS data of refugee boats, and they can intercept the migrants in this way, according to HRW, Europe is "complimentary in the abuse" of the People in Libyan camps.
The central Mediterranean route also remains the most dangerous: According to the UN Organization for Migration (IOM), almost 2,000 people died or were missing during crossings by mid-December - a good 1,360 between North Africa and Italy alone. The number of unreported cases is likely to be higher.
A good 30,000 migrants reached Spain by December of this year. As in Greece and Italy, the majority of people come by sea - around half of all people cross from West Africa to the Canary Islands.
Two powerful fences are to protect the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco from migrants. The situation there keeps getting worse. When hundreds of people, mainly from Sudan, tried to climb the fence to Melilla on June 24, the Moroccan police intervened brutally. At least 23 people died and dozens are missing. The Spanish Amnesty International Director Esteban Beltran saw a "crime against humanity"; Amnesty Secretary General Agnès Callamard spoke of "massive killings, enforced disappearances, torture, pushbacks and racism". According to the UNHCR, more than 2,900 people made it to Ceuta and Melilla in 2022.
Poland also relied on walls, steel and barbed wire and in June completed the construction of a 187-kilometer border fence with Belarus. The 5.5 meter high fence is equipped with night vision cameras and motion detectors and did not fail to have an effect: From January to November, 14,900 migrants made it across the border illegally - in 2021, for comparison, there were still almost 40,000 people.