The migratory pressure towards Europe grows. In the first seven months of the year, irregular immigration has increased on all routes, with one exception: the Western Mediterranean route, which connects Spain with northern Morocco and Algeria. Until the end of July, 155,090 people had crossed European borders irregularly, 86% more than in the same period of 2021, according to Frontex, the agency in charge of border control of the Union. The economic crisis derived from the pandemic, the food crisis that is causing the war in Ukraine, the armed conflicts, the consequences of the climate crisis or the advance of Islamic fundamentalism are some of the causes that are pushing thousands of people in Africa and Asia to leave their countries for the European continent. This number of irregular entries in the first semester is a milestone, and has not been seen since 2016, a year after the refugee crisis that caused the war in Syria broke out. And meanwhile, the Twenty-seven are advancing very slowly towards the asylum and migration pact; an agreement that, precisely, they have been trying to lift for years to respond to critical moments like that.
The main gateway to the mainland is the Western Balkans land route. Every week, thousands of attempts are made to cross the borders separating Bosnia from Croatia and Serbia from Croatia, Hungary or Romania. During the period observed, this route has registered 70,770 entries, triple that of 2021, and that without taking into account the Ukrainians fleeing the war, since this report does not contemplate that tragedy. The passage through the Western Balkans is mainly used by Afghans, Syrians, Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Iraqis. A restricted report from the European Commission, to which EL PAÍS has had access, foresees that the migratory pressure on this flank will remain at similar or higher levels during the rest of the summer because, as occurs on the other routes, the number of candidates waiting your chance to cross is quite high.
With regard to maritime routes, the central Mediterranean route is the busiest. A total of 42,549 people have landed in Italy or Malta from Libya and Tunisia and even Algeria. The 44% increase compared to 2021 is due, above all, to arrivals in Italy, because Malta has registered the entry of about 30 people, compared to the more than 300 who arrived last year around this time. The number of barges has grown exponentially this summer: in the first 10 days of July alone, nearly 8,000 people disembarked. There is a curious and novel fact on this route: among the five majority nationalities arriving at Italian ports, there is no Sub-Saharan; Egyptians and Bangladeshis are the most numerous.
Almost certainly these numbers will become an electoral weapon in the next Italian elections to be held in September. Matteo Villa, a researcher specializing in migration at the Italian Institute for International Policy Studies (ISPI), explains: “While the electoral campaign accelerates, the arrival of irregular migrants is growing for the third consecutive year. This year we will approach 80,000 arrivals, compared to 65,000 last year and 11,000 in 2019. It is still manageable, but the difficulty increases, especially in summer”. Villa explains that until recently irregular immigration had not been a key asset in the campaign, until far-right Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy, suggested using a naval blockade to prevent the arrival of boats. “This extreme and brutal policy had already been proposed by Meloni, but this time the center-right coalition will have to decide whether or not to support it in this campaign,” she adds. Everything indicates that the issue will remain in the rallies in parallel to the landings: for the first time since the end of the 1980s, Italians will vote in September, after the months of greatest migratory intensity in the central Mediterranean.
Even with moderate figures, the Eastern Mediterranean route has experienced a 133% boom in the first six months of the year: almost 22,601 people had arrived in Greece and Cyprus. On the other hand, the growing number of interceptions by the Turkish coastguards, with the help of the Greeks, stands out. Until the beginning of July, they prevented the departure of 38,147 people, 56% more than in 2021, according to Frontex data to which EL PAÍS has had access.
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More arrivals in the Canary Islands, less in the Strait
The migratory routes to Spain present the only descent of the entire European map, but it is necessary to separate them to understand the different trends. As of July 31, according to Frontex, nearly 16,000 people had arrived in Spain by land and sea, a slightly lower number than the previous year (3.3% less). The drop could be greater, but the Canarian route has grown strongly with almost 9,500 arrivals, 25% more. This same percentage, but in reverse, that is, a fall, is the one that shows the evolution in the Strait of Gibraltar and other routes of the western Mediterranean. The Frontex numbers show the same trend as those of the Spanish Ministry of the Interior as of August 15, although with different data.
Morocco, after reconciliation with Spain, has increased its collaboration to prevent boats from leaving the Atlantic coast. And to this is added the 500 million from the European Union that the Maghreb country will receive to control its borders, as EL PAÍS advanced. However, the results so far are modest. According to data from the security forces to which this newspaper has had access, Rabat stopped in 2021 19% of the people who tried to embark from its coasts or from those of Western Sahara to the islands. That percentage is now 25%. Despite this greater effectiveness, the region controlled by Morocco is where practically all the boats leave, once Mauritania and Senegal also increased their controls. “Beyond the efforts of Morocco, the migratory pressure in the area is very high,” explains a Spanish source dedicated to border control. Almost 10,000 people have already arrived in the Canary Islands, 45% of them Moroccan. If this rate is maintained, the 22,000 entries from last year will be exceeded, a figure very similar to the one that surpassed the Pedro Sánchez government in 2020 and caused a humanitarian crisis on the islands.
Moroccan police pressure has greater results on the Strait route. Rabat maintains the siege of migrants in the north of the country and departures from that region have been, since 2019, less and less frequent. It is the only route to Spain that is considered controlled. Algeria, for its part, despite its anger at the support that Spain has given Morocco in the dispute over Western Sahara, continues to hold back its emigrants. Thus, the whole of the Western Mediterranean route shows a drop of 21%, the only one in decline. However, the autumn months, when there are better weather conditions, will be key for both the Algerian route and the Canarian route.
The latest risk analysis document, a review carried out by Frontex every two years, points to future causes. One of them is “the increase in extreme weather events and their results such as environmental degradation, resource scarcity and lack of access to basic goods such as food and water, which will have an impact on health, economies, security , migration and competition for these limited resources”. The same report indicates another reason: inequality, a phenomenon that, like extreme weather events and their consequences, is already beginning to be seen. Nor does the Warsaw-based body forget to point out the geopolitical instability and the failed states that are at the gates of the European Union or a little further away, something that is currently happening in the Sahel, where there is also a growing Russian presence through the Wagner mercenary company.
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