Illegal Travel Into Europe Rises As Travel Bans Wane

Illegal Travel Into Europe Rises As Travel Bans Wane

Imagine traveling for three days with 28 people in a boat measuring just 5 meters by 1.5. Now imagine you have no lifejacket and very little food and drink.

One of the impacts of Covid-19, whether it be the travel restrictions and bans put in place around the world as governments try to control its spread, or how deteriorating economic conditions drove more people to try to reach Europe, smuggling routes have been impacted.

Frontex is the European Border and Coast Guard Agency responsible for policing the borders of EU/Schengen area member states. A recent report on the first six months of 2021 show a sharp rise in the number of illegal attempts to enter European countries. Early calculations show that 61,000 people tried to illegally enter Europe from January to June 2021, which is 59% more than the total from 2020. Indeed, in June 2021 alone, Frontex recorded 11,150 illegal border crossings at EU’s external borders, which was 69% more than in the same month last year.

And the reason is relatively easy to comprehend. In the first six months of 2020, governments had enacted lots of Covid-19 travel restrictions, which were able to restart as restrictions were relaxed. The highest increase took place on the Central Mediterranean route, where smuggling networks resumed their activities in Libya and Tunisia, bringing over predominantly Tunisian and Bangladeshi nationals (4,700 in June 2021 alone).

Many of these individuals are apprehended in boats too small for the numbers of people, without lifejackets, with hardly any food or drink (certainly not enough for the journey or numbers involved) and in poor physical conditions. Many don’t survive the trip—according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 7,418 migrants and refugees had arrived by sea to the Canary Islands in Spain at the end of July 2021, but 250 died in the attempt (an increase on 2019 and 2020 figures).

However, a recent report from the Spanish migration NGO Caminando Fronteras (Walking Borders) suggests that the number of deaths could be actually eight times higher than the IOM’s estimates because of so-called invisible shipwrecks, boats that disappear without a trace.

Spain’s Canaries are indeed facing a crisis, driven in no small part by the economic situation deteriorating in Morocco due to Covid-19. As increasing numbers of men, women and children keep arriving from Africa (in 2020, there were 23,023 arrivals, many in the past three months of the year), the islands resources and infrastructure became increasingly strained. Amnesty International has called for Spain to move these people to the mainland to avoid disastrous living conditions in migrant camps.

Likewise, figures for illegal crossings have jumped on the English Channel as migrants have tried to reach the U.K. from France. The Guardian reported that up to Tuesday 20 July, 8,452 people had been caught trying to get into England, which was greater than the number for the whole of 2020, when 8,417 people made the trip (the figures obviously relate to the numbers recorded).

On Sunday 25 July alone, there were 12 incidents where a total of 378 migrants were detained by U.K. border authorities and another five incidents detained a further 178 people from reaching Kent in the U.K. by French ships.

Algerian nationals comprise the bulk of the nationals seeking asylum in Spain (60%) on the Western Mediterranean route, with Moroccans second. Syrian and Turkish nationals are the most widely detected nationals making their way on the Eastern Mediterranean route to Greece.

Hassan Hadda, a 25-year-old Moroccan sandwich maker from Dakhla in Western Sahara is one of the lucky ones, in that he survived the trip. He has been in a camp in the Canaries since 2017 and is waiting to be regularized. Hadda told The Guardian that “I’d always dreamed of getting to Europe since I was a kid. It didn’t matter where it was—France, Spain or anywhere else—I felt I’d never have a future if I stayed where there’s no work and no human rights. That is why I risked my life.”