Nearly half of irregular border crossings during 2022 were overland through the Western Balkans region, according to a report by the EU border agency Frontex. Preliminary figures do not include Ukrainian refugees.
The number of irregular border crossings in the European Union increased by 64% last year compared to 2021. According to agency estimates, some 330,000 entries were detected, of which 45% were carried through the Western Balkans region.
The Central Mediterranean route had the second highest number of crossings, increasing by more than half to over 100,000.
Most of the people who attempted the dangerous sea route last year were nationals of Egypt, Tunisia and Bangladesh. Frontex also reports that 2022 reached the highest number of people in five years from Libya, the main departure point from North Africa.
Regardless of the entry route, Syrians, Afghans and Tunisians accounted for approximately 47% of border crossing attempts. The number of Syrians approximately doubled to 94,000.
Males accounted for more than 80% of attempts to enter the Union. The proportion of reported minors decreased by about 9% of all irregular entries.
The latest Frontex figures did not include millions of Ukrainian refugees who entered the EU between February, when Russia invaded Ukraine, and December.
In this vein, during this January, Europol supported Bulgarian authorities during a large-scale day of action against organised crime groups involved in migrant smuggling. The activities, coordinated by the Bulgarian prosecutor and with the participation of the General Directorate for Combating Organised Crime, the National Police and the Border Police, have targeted criminal networks active along the Balkan route. Bulgarian investigations were also coordinated with Turkish and Serbian authorities and other cooperating agencies.
The joint actions took place in Bulgaria and focused on a number of migrant smuggling networks from Turkey through Bulgaria to Serbia and then Western Europe. The main organisers of the networks active along this route are based in Bulgaria, Serbia and Turkey. They have created their own national networks of members responsible for transportation and accommodation in their respective countries.
The main means of transportation used by smugglers were vans, caravans and buses.
Bulgarian authorities have reported an increase in migrant smuggling activities at its southern border. In August 2022, an incident involving a bus carrying irregular migrants resulted in the death of two police officers on duty. Months later the same year, a Bulgarian border police officer was shot dead during a regular patrol on the green border with Turkey. These facts suggest an increase in both smuggling activities and the violence of the criminal networks involved.