EU illegal migrants fall sharply in 2012, but Syrians on rise

Half as many people were caught trying to slip across European Union borders in 2012 but more and more of them were Syrians, the EU's border management agency FRONTEX said Thursday.

Afghans remained the single largest group by nationality, accounting for over 24,000 of the 73,000 people caught at the bloc's external borders, a 49 percent fall in comparison with 141,000 the year before, the agency said in its annual report.

The fall, the sharpest since FRONTEX was set up in 2005, was due to efforts by Greece to secure its porous land border with Turkey and a fall in the numbers of people fleeing northern Africa after the Arab Spring protests in Libya and Tunisia.

Greece deployed 1,800 guards along the border with Turkey and put up a barbed wire fence in its northeast last year.

FRONTEX director Ilkka Laitinen said that following the measures, illegal migration on that border dropped last year from 2,000 a week in August to 10 a week in October.

In the central Mediterranean region, the number of illegal migrants fell 82 percent to 10,380 against 59,000 following the North African protests in 2011. But the number was only 1,660 in 2010.

More and more Syrians fleeing an increasingly deadly conflict at home however were among those seeking to breach EU borders in search of a new life.

A total 11,900 Syrians were caught trying to sneak into the bloc in 2012 in comparison with just over 3,000 in each of the three years before.