Coronavirus restrictions sent illegal border crossings into the European Union down to levels last seen in 2013, although thousands of migrants pursued more dangerous routes that were rarely used before the pandemic.
The number of illegal border crossings into the EU dropped 13% in 2020 to 124,000, according to preliminary data collected by Frontex, the EU border control agency. The number of such crossings has fallen since the huge surge of migrants entering Europe in 2015.
The global pandemic has pushed down migration, both legal and illegal, as countries have closed borders, restricted routes for legal migration and scaled back programs to take in refugees. Covid-19 travel restrictions inside countries and along borders have also made smuggling more dangerous and expensive, experts said, although it hasn’t halted the activity altogether.
In Europe, the year started out with a surge in crossings from Turkey to Greece—a route used by Middle Eastern migrants and refugees, notably from Syria—but those numbers ultimately fell.
In February, the Turkish government signaled that it would no longer abide by a 2016 agreement it struck with the EU to stop large-scale migration. It said that it could no longer manage its refugee population and wouldn’t prevent refugees and migrants in Turkey from reaching Europe.