The issue of migration has always posed major challenges to the countries of the European Union and, above all, sees them on opposing sides and positions, ranging from calls for solidarity and shared responsibility to walls and barbed wire. The first point of departure, however, should always be to focus on the issue, starting with the numbers. In this article, we have examined the situation from a quantitative point of view, obviously without ever forgetting that behind every figure there is a life, a dream and thousands of rights to be guaranteed. Let’s start.

2021, arrivals and routes

Migrant arrivals in the European Union in 2021 were just under 200,000, the highest number since 2017. These are the figures from the European Border and Coastguard Agency (Frontex), which provided the latest snapshot of the situation of crossings considered illegal at European borders. This is an increase of 36% compared to 2019 and 57% compared to 2020, a year in which a strong impact of restrictions due to Covid-19 was observed. According to Frontex, there are factors other than the lifting of mobility restrictions that lead to increased migratory pressure. One such factor that defined 2021 was undoubtedly the situation on the border with Belarus, making it another year in which migration was used in a hybrid operation targeting the EU’s external border.

In 2021, Syrians remained the most reported nationality of persons detected crossing the border without permission, followed by Tunisians, Moroccans, Algerians, and Afghans. As in 2020, women continued to account for less than one in ten arrivals in 2021, with a significant drop in their share compared to 2019. As regards other vulnerable groups, the reported share of minors remained largely unchanged, as did that of unaccompanied minors.

The Central Mediterranean was again the most used migration route to Europe in 2021, accounting for one-third of all reported illegal border crossings. With an 83% increase in detections, reflecting more arrivals from the Libyan, Tunisian, and Turkish coasts, the route has indeed assumed an even more important role among migration routes. Although Tunisian migrants were more frequently detected in this region, 2021 saw mainly the return of more Egyptian migrants (a seven-fold increase compared to 2020). Together with Bangladeshi migrants, Egyptians were among the key nationalities in the central Mediterranean.

On the Western Mediterranean route, around 18,000 arrivals were reported in 2021, a stable situation compared to the same period in 2020. The majority of migrants were of Algerian nationality, followed by Moroccans. The West African route also recorded a similar number of detections as in 2020 with around 22,500 detections, with the usual seasonal peak occurring in September. The main nationalities recorded were again Moroccan, followed by several West African nations.

About one in ten of all irregular crossings detected in 2021 occurred on the Eastern Mediterranean route, where the number was roughly on par with the same period in 2020. However, while detections continued to decrease in Greece, Cyprus recorded a significant increase in migration flows compared to previous years. Detections in Cyprus (around 10,400 in total in 2021, more than double (123%) in the same period in 2020) increased significantly in the last quarter of 2021 due to a higher share of Africans among the detected migrants.

The Western Balkan route saw a further increase of 124% in reported detections of illegal border crossings in 2021 compared to 2020. The route showed an increasing trend until September and a slight decrease in the following months. Most of the detected illegal border crossings can be traced back to persons who have been in the region for some time and who repeatedly attempt to reach their destination country in the EU.

At the eastern land borders, approximately 8 thousand illegal border crossings were detected for the year 2021, an increase of more than ten times compared to 2020. This shows intense pressure with continuous border crossing attempts, which were detected in the context of the declaration of a state of emergency in all three EU Member States bordering Belarus. The figures peaked in the second half of the year when migratory pressure first concentrated on the Lithuanian border and then moved to the Polish and Latvian borders.


Source for the picture:

Giulia Torbidoni – Progetto Amif, TIA