ATHENS (Reuters) - Economic crisis and tougher border controls are leading to a sharp decrease in illegal immigration into the European Union, the bloc’s border agency Frontex said on Wednesday.
A total 106,200 illegal immigrants were detected at the EU’s sea and land borders in 2009, 33 percent less than in the previous year, the agency’s Deputy Executive Director Gil Arias-Fernandez told a news conference.
“Lack of employment is a key factor for the drop,” Arias-Fernandez said. Measures taken by Libya, Mauritania and Senegal to prevent illegal immigrants from departing in the first place have also helped stem the flow, he added.
Almost nine out of ten illegal immigrants use Greece as their springboard into the EU. A total 6,600 illegal border crossings were detected in the country in the first quarter of 2010, 7 percent less than in the same period last year.
“Most of the people entering Greece plan to continue their trip to other EU member states,” Arias-Fernandez said.
Greece is struggling to cope with the swelling number of migrants, most arriving via Albania and Turkey, who seek a better life in Europe.
Frontex has stepped up surveillance at the Greek-Turkish borders but denied press reports it had any immediate plans to use unmanned aircraft, also known as drones.
“We are following developments in the industry to see if they can be used, but at this point it is premature to say that Frontex plans to use them,” Arias-Fernandez said.
The EU has long tried in vain to convince Turkey, which aspires to become a member, to do more to control departures from its Western coast towards Greece.
Greece itself came under criticism over migration, with human rights organisations saying it abusively detains and expels migrants.
Greece’s socialist government has pledged to crack down on illegal immigration while at the same time granting citizenship to all immigrant children born in the country.
Reporting by Harry Papachristou; editing by Noah Barkin