The Eastern Mediterranean route saw arrivals of irregular migrants more than double in January-March, driven by detections of illegal crossings in Cyprus, which rose 302%, said EU border agency Frontex.
The first quarter of 2022 registered the highest level of irregular crossings into European Union since the migratory crisis in 2016, fuelled by a surge in Cyprus arrivals.
Irregular migration also increased in the Eastern Mediterranean, attributed to a significant increase in migrant arrivals to Cyprus during the first three months to March.
Preliminary calculations by Frontex show that more than 40,300 illegal crossings were detected between January and March, 57% higher than a year ago.
Almost half of these irregular arrivals were recorded at the Western Balkans migratory route.
The largest increase compared to last year was reported on the EU’s eastern land border due to the refugee flows caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
However, most Ukrainian refugees crossed into the EU through legal border crossings.
In March alone, nearly 11,700 irregular migrants were recorded at the EU external borders, 29% more than in the same month of 2021.
“The Eastern Mediterranean route saw the number of arrivals of irregular migrants more than double during the first three months to over 7,000, an annual increase of 132%.
“The rise was driven by the detections of illegal border crossings in Cyprus, which rose three-fold to over 5,100 (from 7,005 detections for the entirety of the Eastern Med route),” said Frontex.
In March, the total number of migrants detected doubled to nearly 3,250.
The main nationalities detected were Nigerians and Congolese (Frontex does not distinguish between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo).
Frontex said refugees fleeing Ukraine and entering the EU through border crossing points are not part of the figures of illegal entries detected.
The preliminary data refers to the number of detections of irregular border-crossing at the external borders of the EU since the same person may attempt to cross the border several times in different locations.
The Western Balkan route accounted for nearly half of all illegal border crossings in the first quarter.
For January-March, it climbed 115% compared to last year, to over 18,300.
In March, the number of irregular migrants detected in the region nearly tripled to 6,650. The main nationalities detected were Syrian and Afghani.
The number of detections on the Western African route rose 70% in the first quarter to around 5,850, even though the total for March alone fell by two-thirds to 360.
The main nationalities detected were Moroccan and Guinean.
In the first quarter of the year, the Eastern Land Border saw the largest increase (714% compared to last year) among the migratory routes.
This was due to some Ukrainian citizens seeking to cross the border illegally between border crossing points, although a vast majority of Ukrainians arrived legally through regular border crossing points. As a result, the total number of detections rose seven-fold to over 950.
In March alone, the number of detections of illegal border crossings in the region rose 12-fold to over 600.
Irregular migrants seeking to cross the Channel towards the UK nearly tripled from a year ago to more than nearly 8,900, half of them were prevented from departure, and half were rescued by British authorities.