Did 1.8 million migrants enter the EU illegally last year?

6 April 2016
What was claimed

1.8 million migrants entered the EU illegally in 2015.

Our verdict

This is incorrect as far as available figures show. 1.8 million illegal border crossings were detected by EU member states in 2015, but this isn’t 1.8 million unique people as some are counted multiple times. It’s thought around one million migrants came over the same period.

 “A massive 1.8 million illegal migrants entered Europe last year – six times more than in 2014”

Daily Express, 6 April 2016 

1.8 million illegal border crossings into the EU were detected by member states in 2015.

This doesn’t mean that 1.8 million migrants came to the EU illegally. One person can cross into the EU multiple times, particularly if they’re travelling across parts of south eastern Europe. It’s thought that these detections are associated with around one million people.

The organisation which compiles and publishes the figures—the EU’s border agency Frontex—says that:

“Irregular border crossings may be attempted by the same person several times in different locations at the external border. This means that a large number of those who were counted when they arrived in Greece were again counted when entering the EU for the second time through Hungary or Croatia.”

This has a significant effect on the figures. Of the 1.8 million detected crossings, 885,000 were through the eastern Mediterranean, mostly from Turkey into Greece. Another 765,000 crossings were detected through the western Balkans into countries like Hungary and Croatia.

It’s well known this is a big route for migrants entering Europe from the Middle East, since the majority who enter Greece don’t apply for asylum there, according to Frontex.

Frontex itself says these 1.8 million detections correspond with an estimated one million migrants entering Europe in 2015. We’ve asked Frontex for its source here. A similar figure has been estimated by the UN and the International Organisation for Migration.

Even though there aren’t as many people as detections, 2015 was an unprecedented year for arrivals into the EU as today’s reports suggest. Those 1.8 million detections compare to less than 300,000 in 2014 and just over 100,000 in 2013.

At the same time the number of detections is only as good as the amount of effort member states spend monitoring the flow of migrants illegally into the EU. There’s no way to know exactly how many people have entered the EU illicitly.

Even though the 1.8 million figure has been widely reported today, we knew there were roughly this many detections in 2015 back in January this year.

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