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article imageThe Mediterranean: Key route for EU-bound migrants

By AFP     Apr 23, 2015 in World

Out of the 283,000 migrants caught illegally entering the European Union in 2014, more than 220,000 arrived via the Mediterranean Sea, according to EU officials.

The Mediterranean has largely replaced land borders as the favoured point of passage, with nearly 171,000 arriving via that route in EU member Italy alone last year.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 1,750 immigrants have perished since the beginning of the year when making the perilous journey across the treacherous sea, 30 times more than the same period of last year.

Below are the main Mediterranean routes used by would-be immigrants, often fleeing conflict and poverty back home, as they seek a better life in the bloc.

- The central Mediterranean route -

This route, from North Africa to Italy and Malta, has since 2013 become the main path of illegal immigration to the EU.

Most of the would-be immigrants have arrived in North Africa from Sub-Saharan Africa and from the Middle East, notably Syria and Iraq.

Fleeing conflict in their own countries, the migrants take advantage of the chaos reigning in Libya, which has become a linchpin for African emigration, acting as a jumping off point for the sea crossing.

Last year witnessed a record of 170,800 arrivals via this route, according to figures from the EU's border agency Frontex.

In January-February 2015, illegal entries in southern Italy increased by 42 percent compared with the same period in 2014, and Frontex forecast in early March that 500,000 to one million migrants could arrive this year.

- The eastern Mediterranean route -

This route is used by immigrants coming via Turkey and passing through EU members Greece, southern Bulgaria or Cyprus.

Rescued migrants stand as they disembark from the Italian Guardia di Finanza vessel Denaro at the Si...
Rescued migrants stand as they disembark from the Italian Guardia di Finanza vessel Denaro at the Sicilian harbour of Catania on April 23, 2015
Alberto Pizzoli, AFP

Up to 2012, the 150-kilometre-long border between Greece and Turkey was the main point of passage for migrants seeking to enter the EU illegally, accounting for nearly half of the entries registered.

While nearly 55,000 migrants were arrested along this border in 2011, they only numbered 1,900 in 2014.

Since controls have been bolstered along this border and a fence built along the Evros river, immigrants have chosen the Bulgarian land border.

But above all they opt for the maritime route in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and the Greek islands, especially those of Lesbos, Samos, Kos and Chios.

In 2014, some 50,830 migrants illegally entered the EU via this eastern Mediterranean route, twice as many as in 2013 but less than the record number of 57,000 in 2011, at the height of the Arab Spring protests.

Syrian refugees, but also Afghans and Somalis made up the bulk of the migrants.

The Greek port police says that 2015 has kicked off with a strong rise in the number of sea crossings, 10,445 in the first quarter, against 2,863 in the same period of 2014.

- The western Mediterranean -

More than 7,840 illegal entries were recorded in 2014 along this route by Frontex, a slight increase on 2013 but less than the record struck in 2011 of 8,450.

On this migration route, more than half of the crossings concern the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Moroccan territory.

The proportion of migrants trying to cross the Strait of Gibraltar, usually in rubber dinghies, account for 45 percent of illegal migrants detected in this area.

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