European borders, back to (ab) normality?

Frontex - Risk analysis for 2108In February 2018, Frontex[1]published its annual report Risk Analysis for 2018. Like every year, the report offers us a range of elements of analysis and a series of relevant data about the situation on the European Union’s external borders.

On this occasion, the document stresses why it is the first post-migration crisis report due to the Syrian conflict and the first to give us a glimpse, with its data, into the result of the agreement reached by the European Union and Turkey. In general, Frontex presents us with a scenario that partially recovers the flow of migrants on the external borders of the Union before the great migration crisis in 2015-2016.

This return to the previous situation is visualised on the central Mediterranean borders (Libya and Italy), and on the eastern Mediterranean borders (Turkey and Greece) and on the Balkan land borders (ex-Yugoslav republics). Compared with 2016,there is a spectacular drop of 34%, 77% and 90% respectively, and a return to figures similar to those of 2014, but still far from those of 2012.[2]

Despite such resounding data, analysts determine that the pressure has not decreased on the European borders and that there are still worrying cases. We find, for example, that on the western Mediterranean borders (Morocco/Algeria and Spain) detection of illegal border crossings has multiplied by 2.3 in the last year.[3]

In other areas related to the illegal movement of persons,[4] although there is an improvement in general data compared with 2015-2016, Frontex highlights the fact that the pressure is not reduced in comparison with 2013-2014. At the same time, in some geographical areas there is no decrease reflected in the data. For example, with regard to refusal of entry, in eastern European countries figures remain stable and, in some cases, increase.[5]

The elements of preoccupation in its analysis are diverse. On the one hand, efficiency of monitoring policies such as return orders, a worry that had been expressed in previous years.[6]On the other hand, criminal activities associated with border crossings, like smuggling illegal products, people trafficking and terrorist activities.[7]

Finally, different future scenarios are considered. Frontex predicts that the pressure on the southern border will increase[8]and that there will be a negative impact on the Balkans because of Serbia’s agreement with China, India and Iran regarding the liberalisation of visas for their citizens. They also stress that the sea routes will continue to be the most important, without forgetting the weight that transit areas will have like the Balkans and Atatürk Airport as an airport hub for illegal migrants. Finally, they point out the latent threat of Jihadist terrorism, of a more decentralised nature and how the use of fraudulent documentation will be central.

[1]European Border and Coast Guard Agency.

[2]It must be stressed that the nationalities that caused the migration crisis on these borders in 2015 and 2016 were, in order, Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi. In overall figures, in the central Mediterranean, in 2016 181,376 people were detected, compared to 118,962 in 2017; in the eastern Mediterranean 182,277 have become 42,305, and, finally, in the Balkans figures have gone from 130,261 to 12,178.

[3] 10,000 detections in 2016 went down to 23,000 in 2017, and the most habitual nationalities are those of Morocco, Algeria and the Ivory Coast.

[4]Clandestine entries, refusal of entry, fraudulent documents or return orders.

[5] The three nationalities that are most often refused entry ─over 30,000 cases in 2017─ are Ukraine, Russia and Albania. The reasons for refusal vary according to country.

[6] There is a noteworthy bias between the number of return orders and effective returns. In 2017 46% of all the return orders were carried out. The main problems are the identification and acquisition of the documentation necessary from third countries.

[7] Richard Barret’s report Beyond the caliphate: Foreign fighters and threat of returnees, by the think tank TheSoufanCenter, stresses that Daeshi Al-Qaeda’s territorial losses have caused the decentralisation of its activity and a dispersion of its combatants. They calculate that 30% (1,700 aprox.) of the Europeans who fought in Syria and Iraq have returned to the continent.

[8] Especially due to the instable situation in Libya in contrast with Turkey, Eastern Europe and Morocco.


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