Mediterranean migrant crossings more than double in the first two months of 2023

Migrants in a wooden boat float in the Mediterranean Sea south of the Italian island of Lampedusa on Aug. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
By Thomas Brooke
4 Min Read

The number of illegal border crossings from North Africa into Italy more than doubled in the first two months of the year, compared to the same period in 2022.

A total of 11,951 crossings via the Central Mediterranean migratory route were detected in January and February, up 118 percent over the same period last year and accounting for two of every five irregular border crossings into the European Union so far this year.

According to the European Union’s border agency, Frontex, the top three nations of origin for migrants arriving via the Mediterranean are Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Pakistan.

In total, 28,130 border crossings have been detected into the European Union so far for 2023, a figure Frontex says is “roughly in line with the same period last year.” The 13,800 new arrivals in February alone is a slight increase over the same month in 2022.

The Western Balkan route, which was reported as being the most frequently used by migrants into Europe last year, has seen the number of new arrivals drop by 28 percent over the same period last year, while migrant landings on the Spanish Canary Islands and mainland Spain have also decreased by 68 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

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Irregular border crossings from Belarus into Poland, Lithuania and to a lesser extent Latvia have increased the most percentage-wise, with 856 crossings so far this year, up 145 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of migrants leaving the European mainland to reach Britain is also up 82 percent, with 5,622 irregular border crossings detected across the English Channel in the first two months of 2023. The British government recently introduced new legislation vowing to detain and deport anyone who enters the country illegally using this route.

The increased frequency in the use of the Central Mediterranean route will place further pressure on Giorgia Meloni’s administration in Rome, which is attempting to implement a policy to crack down on people smugglers and deter migrants from making the journey.

The Italian government announced last week harsher penalties for convicted people smugglers, who could now serve up to 30 years in prison if small-boat migrants die on their watch. The new legislation comes after last month’s tragedy in the Ionian Sea, which saw dozens of migrants die in rough waters.

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A recent Italian intelligence report suggested the presence of NGO search-and-rescue vessels in the Mediterranean is encouraging more migrants to make the journey to Europe, knowing they only need to effectively get halfway across until they are likely picked up and escorted to shore.

The report accused NGOs of providing “a logistical advantage for the criminal organizations that manage migrant trafficking, allowing them to adapt their modus operandi according to the possibility of reducing the quality of the vessels used, correspondingly increasing illicit profits, and exposing the people on board to a more concrete risk of shipwreck.”

The data, published by Frontex on Friday, shows a likelihood of illegal immigration continuing to remain at high levels for this year, running at a similar rate to 2022 when 330,000 irregular border crossings were detected, the highest figure since the migration crisis of 2016.

This, however, only tells part of the story, with almost 1 million asylum applications being made across the European Union in 2022, a figure that excludes almost 5 million Ukrainian refugees.

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