In January, irregular immigration to the EU from Western Africa witnessed an increase of more than tenfold compared to the previous year, as reported by the Frontex border agency of the bloc. Frontex anticipates a general rise in arrivals throughout 2024 and underscores the impossibility of entirely halting the movement of people.
Hans Leijtens, the head of Frontex, addressed this issue from his Warsaw office ahead of a visit by the EU chief executive and the Spanish prime minister to Mauritania, a recently prominent departure point for Europe.
Responding to questions regarding the upcoming June EU-wide parliamentary election, where migration holds a prominent position, the former Dutch border guard conveyed to Reuters that achieving a complete halt to irregular arrivals is not a feasible or realistic goal.
According to Hans Leijtens, the head of Frontex, migration is a global reality that necessitates careful management, especially considering the unsustainable nature of uncontrolled migration to Europe. He acknowledged the inherent complexity of achieving a complete cessation of migration, describing it as a highly challenging and, in his opinion, nearly impossible task.
Leijtens emphasized the vital role of systematically managing the external borders of the European Union. He sees this as a pivotal element within a broader “European portfolio” essential for effectively tackling the challenges posed by migration. Furthermore, he stressed the importance of the European Union providing development aid and various forms of assistance to foreign countries. This holistic approach aims to address the root causes of migration and contribute to a more sustainable and organized migration management system for the EU.
Throughout the past year, Frontex, the European Union’s border agency, documented a significant increase in irregular border crossings, reaching a total of 380,000 cases. This figure represents the highest recorded since 2016. Notably, it marked another consecutive year of growth following the lows witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Hans Leijtens, the head of Frontex, foresees this upward trend continuing into the year 2024.
Leijtens expressed his perspective, stating that he does not anticipate a shift in the trend towards decreasing numbers. His expectation is rooted in the belief that more individuals from sub-Saharan Africa will continue seeking entry into Europe. Additionally, he highlighted the uncertain situation faced by Palestinians attempting to flee Gaza, adding a layer of complexity to the migration landscape in the coming year. This insight underscores the ongoing challenges and complexities involved in managing irregular migration to Europe.
“I don’t intend to be overly alarmist, but I believe this assumption can be substantiated.”
For what are the individuals fleeing qualified?
Individuals escaping conflicts possess the right to seek asylum in the European Union, a region that has provided refuge to millions of Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion since 2022. However, Africans are predominantly perceived as labor migrants, and the EU aims to closely control such migration.
Ahead of official publication, Reuters obtained Frontex’s January data, revealing the Atlantic route as the most frequented path for irregular migration into the EU. This route accounted for nearly half of the nearly 14,000 arrivals recorded last month.
The overall data indicates a slight year-on-year decrease in irregular arrivals and a one-third reduction from December. Winter months typically witness lower migration numbers, in contrast to the higher figures during the summer. United Nations data highlights the grim reality of over 3,700 migrants losing their lives on their journey to Europe last year, with some of the deadliest incidents occurring off Italy’s Steccato di Cutro and Greece’s Pylos.
Polls Throughout Europe
The European Union has witnessed a surge in anti-immigration discourse, particularly following the unanticipated arrival of over a million individuals, predominantly Syrian refugees, through the Mediterranean in 2015.
The Canary Islands in Spain recorded unprecedented arrivals in the past year, exemplifying the persistent challenges that feature prominently in election campaigns, often accompanied by pledges to curtail immigration.
According to Leijtens, enhancing the efficiency of repatriating unsuccessful asylum-seekers is crucial for restoring the confidence of Europeans. He emphasized the significance of a credible return operation to demonstrate to both European residents and migrants that those not requiring protection will be repatriated.
While expressing appreciation for the new EU Migration Pact, which seeks to revamp the bloc’s outdated migration and asylum regulations, Leijtens underscored the need for the 27 member states to intensify their efforts in the realm of returns.