In 2013, border security at the borders between EU member states and countries of the Eastern Borders Risk Analysis Network (EB-RAN — Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova) and the Russian Federation, was shaped by several interlinked factors.
Firstly, passenger flow continued to grow, by roughly 10 percent on the 2012 figure, with the total number of border crossings (both entry and exit) reaching 77 million. The growth was driven by expanding legal travel channels — growing visa issuance and implementation of local border traffic agreements — as well as by longer-term economic developments in the EB-RAN countries and the Russian Federation encouraging mobility of people and goods. Increasing traffic has generated considerable pressure on border crossing points’ (BCPs) capacity to keep the flows smooth and secure.
Secondly, smuggling of goods remained a significant factor in border policing. Data collected within EB-RAN countries, as well as during Frontex-coordinated joint operations, indicate that the smuggling of tobacco products was particularly common. Smuggling occurred primarily through official BCPs; however, a variety of modi operandi were also detected. These included so-called ‘ant smuggling’ (smuggling of small amounts of excise goods and illegal substances through the BCPs) to the use of rafts across the border rivers to smuggle large quantities of cigarettes.
Additionally, cross-border criminal activities also included attempts to transport stolen cars and motorcycles from the European Union to EB-RAN countries. The illicit drugs being smuggled ranged from cannabis and synthetic drugs either transiting the EU or originating in it and being transported to the EB-RAN countries, and heroin and amphetamine precursors being brought into the EU.
Thirdly, though there was a slight increase in detections of illegal border crossings compared to the previous year, overall in 2013 these remained low when compared to other sections of the EU’s external borders and at 1,316 accounted for only 1.2 percent of the EU total.
This is possibly due to the fact that the route via EB-RAN countries or the Russian Federation towards the EU involves logistical difficulties and high costs, especially for migrants coming from beyond the region. Efficient cooperation between border-control authorities on both sides of the common borders also creates a higher risk of detection than other routes.
In contrast to the rather low level of illegal border crossings, the phenomenon of migrants being refused entry who then applied for asylum and subsequently absconded from reception centres was the most serious in terms of magnitude. The number of refusals of entry rose to over 50,000, i.e. 39 percent of the EU total, indicating a growing risk of abuse of legal travel channels. While the large number of refusals of entry can be partly explained by growth in regular traffic, two individual phenomena stood out in 2013: 1) a sharp increase of nationals of the Russian Federation of Chechen origin refused entry and then using asylum applications in Poland as a way to enter the EU and then move on to Germany; 2) the continued flow of Georgian nationals to Poland and further on to other EU member states using a variety of methods. In both cases, the main entry point was the Polish-Belarusian border.
The use of this modus operandi appears to be a significant entry channel of irregular migration to the EU as it exploits possibilities for legal entry while still absorbing a significant proportion of border-control resources. The abuse of visas in order to work irregularly and/or stay in other member states for longer than permitted by the visa was also reported, including continued use of fraudulent supporting documentation and falsified stamps to conceal evidence of overstaying.
The situation in Ukraine is the main uncertainty considering the border-security outlook. So far, in terms of EU border security, the impact of the crisis is limited. Population movements from the contested areas, especially Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, are possible. At the same time, economic and political instability may cause changes to labour migration, thus possibly also affecting irregular movements.
An important positive development is the implementation of the EU-Moldova visa liberalisation in April 2014, which can be seen as a sign of enhanced border security and cooperation in the region promoting bona fide cross-border mobility without compromising border security.