EU's Frontex warns of new migrant route to Spain

Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri has warned that Spain could see a significant increase in migrant arrivals. The news comes ahead of the European Commission's new proposal to strengthen EU external borders with more guards.

Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri said Friday that some 6,000 migrants had entered the European Union in June by crossing into Spain from Morocco, the so-called western Mediterranean route.

Speaking to German weekly Die Welt am Sonntag, Leggeri warned that the route could overtake others as the most important path into Europe, including the central Mediterranean route to Italy or the eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey into the Balkans.

"If you ask me what my greatest worry is, then I have to say Spain," he said.

Although the number of migrants arriving in Europe has dropped off since the height of the crisis in 2015, thousands still enter the bloc every month and the issue continues to fuel political tensions between member states.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Fleeing war and poverty

In late 2014, with the war in Syria approaching its fourth year and Islamic State making gains in the north of the country, the exodus of Syrians intensified. At the same time, others were fleeing violence and poverty in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, Niger and Kosovo.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Seeking refuge over the border

Vast numbers of Syrian refugees had been gathering in border-town camps in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan since 2011. By 2015, with the camps full to bursting and residents often unable to find work or educate their children, more and more people decided to seek asylum further afield.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

A long journey on foot

In 2015 an estimated 1.5 million people made their way on foot from Greece towards western Europe via the "Balkan route". The Schengen Agreement, which allows passport-free travel within much of the EU, was called into question as refugees headed towards the wealthier European nations.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Desperate sea crossings

Tens of thousands of refugees were also attempting the perilous journey across the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats. In April 2015, 800 people of various nationalities drowned when a boat traveling from Libya capsized off the Italian coast. This was to be just one of many similar tragedies - by the end of the year, nearly 4,000 refugees were reported to have died attempting the crossing.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Pressure on the borders

Countries along the EU's external border struggled to cope with the sheer number of arrivals. Fences were erected in Hungary, Slovenia, Macedonia and Austria. Asylum laws were tightened and several Schengen area countries introduced temporary border controls.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Closing the open door

Critics of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "open-door" refugee policy claimed it had made the situation worse by encouraging more people to embark on the dangerous journey to Europe. By September 2016, Germany had also introduced temporary checks on its border with Austria.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Striking a deal with Turkey

In early 2016, the EU and Turkey signed an agreement under which refugees arriving in Greece could be sent back to Turkey. The deal has been criticized by human rights groups and came under new strain following a vote by the European Parliament in November to freeze talks on Turkey's potential accession to the EU.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

No end in sight

With anti-immigration sentiment in Europe growing, governments are still struggling to reach a consensus on how to handle the continuing refugee crisis. Attempts to introduce quotas for the distribution of refugees among EU member states have largely failed. Conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere show no signs coming to an end, and the death toll from refugee sea crossings is on the rise.

More border guards

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday that the Brussels-based body would put forward a plan in September for securing the European Union's borders.

One of the commission's proposals, he said, would be to deploy 10,000 border agents from 2020.

Read more: Where do EU countries stand on migration?

"We had initially intended to deploy 10,000 border guards by 2027. We are now bringing this forward," he told a press conference in Vienna, where he was on a visit to mark the start of Austria's tenure of the rotating EU presidency.

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Focus on Europe | 22.06.2017

Rescue organizations in Italy under pressure

EU deal

Strengthening the EU's external border was a headline agenda item in Brussels last month, with EU leaders pledging to increase funding for the Frontex and boost its workforce from 600 to 1,000 by 2020.

Read moreWhat is the Frontex – the European Border and Coast Guard Agency?

Related Subjects

They also agreed to share out refugees among member states, create secure centers for migrants in the bloc, as well as set up "disembarkation platforms" outside the bloc.

The deal has been criticized for its vagueness, leaving unclear how the burden would be fairly distributed. Soon after the summit, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland repeated their refusal to take in any migrants.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated last week in a letter to her coalition partners that she planned to send German police to Bulgaria to help strengthen the EU's external border there. She also said Frontex should be boosted in Greece along the borders with Macedonia and Albania.

amp, nm/cmk (Reuters, AP, dpa)

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