Illegal migrants rescued from a wooden canoe ('cayuco') wait prior to being transferred by buses to the temporary care center for foreigners in Gran Canaria after receiving the first assistance in the port of Arguineguin, Gran Canaria, Canary islands, Spain, 12 March 2024. EPA-EFE/QUIQUE CURBELO

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Frontex: Illegal migration from Western Africa to EU up by 541 per cent in first two months of 2024

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Illegal border-crossings into the European Union are maintaining their rising overall level – but the routes used by illegal immigrants are changing.

The numbers of those trying West African and Eastern Mediterranean routes is increasing as those opting for the Central Mediterranean alternative decreases.

According to the latest figures published on March 13 by the European border agency Frontex, the West African and East Mediterranean pathways experienced the highest rises in illegal border-crossings into the EU in the first two months of this year, at plus-541 per cent and plus-117 per cent, respectively.

With more 12,000 arrivals in January and February, the African route remained the most popular. The first two months of 2024 marked the highest total since Frontex started gathering statistics in 2011.

With 9,150 detections in January and February, the East Mediterranean emerged as the second-most active for would-be migrants – more than doubling previously recorded activity.

The largest fall in irregular-crossing detections along the primary routes – of 70 per cent – was for the Central Mediterranean.

Down to 4,315 crossings in the first two months of 2024, the Central Mediterranean path, which had the greatest number of irregular crossings in 2023, maintained a falling trend. Approximately 2,000 detections were made along the route in January.

Additionally, the numbers identified in the Western Balkans continued to drop with a 65 per cent decline.

Frontex noted that criminal organisations engaged in people-smuggling in Mauritania have been quick to take advantage of opportunities created by the rise in demand from sub-Saharan migrants passing through the nation in search of EU entry via the Canary Islands in recent months.

“People-smugglers have been cramming an increasing number of migrants on to cayuco boats [wooden canoes], putting the lives of the people on board in even larger danger,” the agency said.

Preliminary estimates show that, in January and February 2024, there were 31,200 unauthorised border-crossings into the EU, comparable to last year’s figure over the same period.

In 2024, the highest number of migrants attempting to reach the EU on all routes so far are from Mali, Syria and Afghanistan, in that order.

Frontex added that sea crossings remain highly dangerous for all irregular migrants. According to information provided by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), at least 255 people have been reported missing in the Mediterranean region already this year. The Central Mediterranean route is described as most perilous for such travellers.

Illegal immigrants also often try to transit via the EU to attempt to enter the UK.

Despite frequently harsh weather that puts at grave risk the lives of those trying to do so via the English Channel, the number of detections on the often treacherous sea-route rose by 10 per cent to more than 6,100 in the first two months of this year, Frontex said.