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Illegal immigration into the European Union is Increasing Again Despite COVID-19

In May — the first month after the apogee of the Covid-19 pandemic, in which several countries lifted the lockdowns restrictions for many industries — more than 4,000 people tried to enter the European Union illegally. The statistics are according to border protection agency Frontex, which noted that the majority of illegal entries occurred from Turkey and Greece.

Illegal Border Crossings Once Again on the Rise

In May, almost three times as many people tried to enter the European Union as in April. There were almost 4,300 unauthorized border crossings on the main migration routes in Europe in May alone, according to figures from Frontex. In April, the numbers had temporarily decreased due to COVID-19. For the year so far, Frontex has recorded a total of 31,600 illegal border crossings from January to May – a six percent decrease compared to the same period in the previous year.

The route across the eastern Mediterranean — via Turkey and Greece — was again the most active migration route to Europe, accounting for 1,250 illegal border crossings in May, eight times as many as in April. From January to May, 12,700 cases were registered, 28 percent fewer than in the same period last year. Afghan nationals conducted the majority of the illegal crossings.

The Morocco to Spain Route and Western Balkans Route

In addition, more than 650 people arrived in the EU in May across the western Mediterranean from Morocco to Spain. That was almost four times as many as in April. There were 3,700 migrants registered in the first five months of the year, less than half than in the same period last year. Almost every second individual was Algerian. The Western Balkans route recorded more than 900 illegal border crossings in May, ten times more than in April. From January to May there were more than 6,900 cases, an increase of 50 percent over the same period last year.

Moreover, there were around 1,000 unauthorized border crossings on the route across the central Mediterranean – from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and Malta, an increase of 40 percent compared to April. From January to May, Frontex recorded 5,500 cases, almost three times as many as in the same period in 2019, with a majority of migrants being of Bangladeshi, Sudanese and Ivory Coast decent.

Crisis Spot: the Greek Turkish Border

According to Frontex, the situation on the Greek-Turkish border, in particular, remains volatile. At the end of February, Turkish President Recep Erdogan told migrants that the borders with the EU were open in an attempt to put pressure on Europe. As a result, tens of thousands of migrants made their way to the border with Greece.

If a similar situation occurrs again the Frontex staff in Greece will be increased, Frontex chair Fabrice Leggeri stated. Currently, only 600 Frontex members are deployed in Greece. However, up to 1,500 more could be mobilized. Leggeri also criticized the current EU asylum system. According to him, asylum applications should already be checked at the external borders. Asylum seekers should be informed as soon as possible whether they will be granted refugee status or not. If the asylum decision is unfavorable, migrants needed to be deported immediately, Leggeri argues.

While the number of arriving, refugees are increasing across the EU, only over a thousand people have voluntarily returned to Syria from Germany since 2017, for example, and only through the financial support of the German government. Accordingly, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) paid a total of 199 return trips in 2017, 466 in 2018 and 347 last year. Due to the ongoing difficult security situation, voluntary return to Syria is not currently being promoted in Germany, nor the EU. Besides, Germany has not deported people to the country since 2012.

Almost 630,000 Syrians have applied for asylum in Germany since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011. The vast majority of applications are being approved.