NEWS

More migrants taking Mediterranean route

Political unrest in North Africa this year resulted in a heavier influx of undocumented immigrants toward the central Mediterranean and a drop in illegal arrivals in Greece, according to Frontex.

Out of a total of around 33,000 would-be migrants arrested across the European Union for illegal entry in the first three months of this year, some 22,600 were stopped on the Italian borders, chiefly on the island of Lampedusa, Frontex?s Deputy Executive Director Gil Arias Fernandez told a press conference in Athens on Tuesday. Some 7,200 migrants were arrested at Greece?s land and sea borders during this time – up from around 13,000 during the same period last year, he said.

But Fernandez said that the increased pressure on the Italian islands and on Malta would not relieve Greece in the medium term.

Greece remains the ?traditional transit country? of choice for the majority of would-be migrants heading for Western and Northern Europe from Africa, he said.

Of the migrants stopped by Greek border guards, 44 percent said they had come from Afghanistan, 16 percent from Algeria, 8.5 percent from Pakistan, 6 percent from Somalia and 4 percent from Iraq.

According to Fernandez, this breakdown could change if the current situation in war-torn Libya shifts and refugees are able to cross via sub-Saharan Africa.

A trend that is reportedly strengthening is that of Algerian immigrants taking direct flights to Turkey before continuing to the Greek-Turkish border. Some 42,000 visas were issued last year to Algerians traveling to Turkey.

Stricter policing of the Greek-Turkish land border over the past few months has reduced the influx of illegal immigrants into Greece.

But, with the population of migrants growing in Athens and other cities, the government is planning to press ahead with the construction of a wire fence along a 12.5-kilometer stretch of the Greek-Turkish border with the aim of averting new illegal arrivals.

Authorities are also planning the construction of several new detention centers for undocumented migrants, one of which is slated for the northern prefecture of Evros.