Over 139,000 persons crossed the EU’s borders illegally in 2019, Fabrice Leggeri, director-general of the European Border and Coastguard Agency, Frontex, said at a press conference on Friday.
This was a 6% reduction versus 2018, 92% less than the record set in 2015 during the migration crisis, and the lowest number since 2013.
Afghans were the largest national group, accounting for about a quarter of illegal migrants arriving in the EU in 2019, Leggeri said. This was thrice the 2018 number, he added.
The percentage of women is also on the increase, according to Frontex. They represented about 23% of the migrants in 2019, up from 19% in 2018. And more minors under the age of 14 years have also been arriving: Frontex recorded 14,600 children in 2019, 1,000 more than in 2018.
The number of irregular arrivals through the Central Mediterranean went down last year (-41%) as did arrivals via the Western Mediterranean (-58%). On the other hand, the numbers went up in the Eastern Mediterranean (+46%), where over 82,000 migrants made the crossing.
Frontex rescued 59,930 migrants in 2019, identified 693 drug traffickers, seized 124 tonnes of drugs and 20 million cigarettes, and detected 4,918 fake documents, the agency reported.
Turning to the role of Frontex in organizing repatriations, Leggeri said 15,850 persons were sent back last year, as against 13,700 in 2018.
The agency will continue to expand in 2020, with about 700 new employees, after receiving 7,500 applications for this first wave of recruitments. These new employees should be ready for deployment from 1 January 2021.
Frontex is in charge of monitoring and managing the external borders of the Schengen area. It works in collaboration with member States.