Europe remains exposed to the ongoing flow of migrants at its borders despite measures designed to mitigate it, a report by French publication Le Monde said on Tuesday after data showed the upward trend of illegal migration to the continent continued last year.
Citing figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the publication noted that some 266,940 migrants and refugees arrived in Europe in 2023. The report added that some 97% of these came by sea, with many arriving in Southern European countries like Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta, and Cyprus.
The migration surge represents an increase of 67% from 2022 and is the highest since the continent’s migration crisis of 2015 (373,652 arrivals) and 2016 (1.03 million arrivals).
The rise comes despite European Union (EU) policy efforts, which have sought to prevent migrants from entering its territory by externalizing – or ‘outsourcing’ – border controls to non-EU countries.
The “main source” of the 2023 surge is the Sfax region of Tunisia on the North African coast, Le Monde said, with Tunisia accounting for about two-thirds of all migrants arriving in Italy last year, which fueled tension between Tunis, Brussels, and Rome.
Tunisian nationals account for less than 10% of those departing the North African country for Europe – with the majority coming from West African countries, including Guinea, Mali, and Cameroon. Many of those arrived in Tunisia after failing in bids to exit Africa from Algeria or Libya, the Le Monde report said.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has called for increased solidarity from European partners amid the country’s status as a primary entry point for illegal migrants. Legislation designed to create a more sustainable asylum process and clarify countries’ responsibilities around accepting immigrants was agreed between the European Parliament and Council in December – more than three years after it was first proposed.
The migratory flow from Tunisian shores towards Europe has led to diplomatic disputes between Tunis and Brussels. Tunisian President Kais Saied, in response to European Union (EU) requests to better monitor his country’s migratory flow in return for financial aid, said that the North African country “cannot be the border guard [for] Europe.”
Saied has, however, denounced the “hordes of illegal immigrants” trying to use the country as an exit point, claiming that they seek to change “the demographic composition of Tunisia.” This has led to an increase in violence against Sub-Saharans living in Tunisia, Le Monde said, which in turn sparks further migration attempts to Europe.
Le Monde also noted that 2024 could likely see a further increased wave of migration to Europe from Africa, particularly from Niger, in the wake of its July 2023 coup. The UNHCR said in September that as of that month, more than 2,500 people had been recorded as dead or missing in attempts to cross the Mediterranean into Europe in 2023.
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