EU external borders: Irregular border crossings down 23% in January-April

The number of irregular border crossings into the European Union in the first four months of 2024 fell by nearly a quarter (23%) to around 63 400, according to preliminary data. The Western Balkans and Central Mediterranean saw the biggest drops in detections of irregular crossings among the major migratory routes (-69% and -62%, respectively), while the Western African and Eastern Mediterranean routes experienced the highest increases (+375% and +105%).

Key highlights for the first four months of 2024 include:

  • Central Mediterranean saw a 62% drop (y/y) in detections.
  • Western Balkans also continued to see significantly lower numbers (-69%), biggest drop among major migratory routes into the EU.
  • Western African route recorded the largest rise.
  • Eastern Mediterranean was the most active migratory route, with arrivals doubled.
  • Top three nationalities on all routes this year: Syria, Mali, Afghanistan.

The Central Mediterranean route, which saw the largest number of irregular crossings in 2023, continued to show a downward trend from recent months, with a year-on-year drop of 62% to slightly above 16 000. In April, the number of arrivals stood at nearly 4 600, down nearly 70% from a year ago.

Also in line with the recent downward trend, the number of detections on the Western Balkan route in the January-April period fell by more than two-thirds (-69%) to just over 7000. 

Meanwhile, the Western African route continued to see unprecedented numbers of detections, with the number of irregular arrivals to the Canary Islands in the first four months of the year rising 375% from the same period of last year to over 16 200. This was the highest total for this period since Frontex began collecting data in 2011. In April, the number of arrivals stood at over 3 100, close to the total for the first four months of last year (3 400).

In recent months criminal groups involved in people smuggling in Mauritania were quick to seize opportunities presented by the increased demand from sub-Saharan migrants transiting their country seeking to enter the European Union via the Canary Islands. People smugglers have been cramming an increasing number of migrants onto Cayuco boats, putting the lives of the people on board in even greater danger.

Last year, the Western African route experienced the biggest percentage rise in irregular crossings.

The most active migratory route in the January-April period was the Eastern Mediterranean, with the number of detections more than doubling to over 17 300 in the first two months of the year.

Frontex remains committed to safeguarding the EU’s borders, with over 2800 officers and staff engaged in various operations.

Sea crossings remain fraught with peril for the people undertaking irregular migration. Data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) indicates that 568 individuals have been reported missing in the Mediterranean so far this year. The vast majority of them were navigating the perilous Central Mediterranean route.

On the Channel route, the number of detections in the first four months of 2024 increased 34% to over 16 300.