Last year, 330,000 irregular border crossings were registered at the external borders of the European Union, the highest number since 2016 (504,000).

As the EU border protection authority Frontex announced on Friday, almost half of them, namely 146,000, were made overland via the Western Balkans route.

This is the highest proportion that has been measured so far, both in relative and absolute terms.

In 2021 there were 61,000 transfers, a third of the registered total of almost 200,000.

On the eastern Mediterranean route, arrivals doubled to 43,000, on the central route they increased by half to 103,000, while on the western routes they fell at low levels.

Thomas Gutschker

Political correspondent for the European Union, NATO and the Benelux countries based in Brussels.

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The information must be qualified in two respects.

On the Western Balkans route in particular, people are often counted several times each time they cross a border into another country.

The more important factor, however, is that the figures relate only to registered conversions.

The number of unreported cases is likely to be much higher.

According to the EU statistical authority Eurostat, more than 600,000 initial applications for asylum were made in the EU member states in the first nine months of last year.

In Germany alone there were 244,000 applications throughout the year.

This suggests that many migrants manage to enter the country of their choice undetected or unregistered.

There are many indications that Bulgaria in particular, which wants to become a member of the Schengen area, is a weak point.

The Bulgarian Ministry of the Interior recently announced that more than 160,000 people were prevented from crossing the border illegally last year and only 14,000 crossed the country.

However, the government in Vienna points out that around half of the 100,000 irregular migrants who arrived in Austria, most of whom were not previously registered, came across the Turkish-Bulgarian border.

Another 40 percent flew to Belgrade by plane and traveled on illegally from there.

The reason for this was the lax visa practice in Serbia, which was tightened at the end of the year due to EU pressure.

The origin of the migrants registered on the western Balkan route also suggests that the land border with Bulgaria is the main gateway to the European Union.

The largest part (94,000) were Syrians;

with around 3.5 million, they are the largest group of refugees in Turkey.

Afghans and Turks also usually came to the EU this way.

In December, Austria and the Netherlands vetoed the EU Commission's proposed admission of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen area.

Both countries referred in particular to deficits in Bulgaria.

The EU heads of state and government want to discuss migration at a special meeting on February 9th and 10th.

One question will then be whether the EU Commission should use its budget to finance the construction of physical border barriers.