Irregular Migration in the European Union: A Snapshot of 2023 Data

Irregular migration in the European Union (EU) has reached record levels in 2023, despite the EU’s efforts to secure its borders and reduce irregular migrant inflows.

According to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), at least 281,431 people clandestinely accessed the EU in the last 12 months, an increase of 48% compared to the previous year. Italy has become the main access point, accounting for 57% of all arrivals.

Irregular Arrivals in Italy: A Continuing Challenge

In 2023, Italy received at least 157,652 irregular migrants, an increase of 50% compared to the previous year. Despite promises by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to curb inflows, the route from Tunisia has become the busiest, surpassing Libya.

Although some European media and politicians have described this situation as a “migration emergency,” Flavio Di Giacomo, spokesman for IOM’s Mediterranean coordination office, argues that these figures are not alarming in a broader context.

Di Giacomo points out that irregular migrants represent only 0.26% of the Italian population and 0.03% of the EU population.

Focus on the Mediterranean: A Maritime Graveyard

Mediterranean remains the world’s largest maritime graveyard for those attempting to cross European borders irregularly. According to the IOM, at least 2,797 people lost their lives at sea while attempting to reach European shores in 2023.

Since 2014, more than 28,000 people are estimated to have died or gone missing in this dangerous crossing. These figures underscore the urgency of addressing the humanitarian crisis rather than focusing solely on irregular migration.

Alternative Routes and Sealed Borders

While the Western Balkan route has seen a 19% decrease in irregular border crossings in 2023, an estimated 8,400 people are still stranded in the region, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

On the other hand, the EU’s eastern flank, especially Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, has strengthened its borders and adopted restrictive measures to prevent the entry of migrants.

In 2023, Polish border authorities thwarted 26,000 entry attempts, demonstrating these countries’ focus on border security.

Asylum Seekers and Expulsions

As of October 2023, the 27 EU countries, along with Norway and Switzerland, received approximately 973,000 asylum applications, the highest number since the refugee crisis of 2015 and 2016.

Germany remains the top destination for asylum seekers, with Syrians continuing to submit the highest number of applications. However, the recognition rate for asylum applications stands at 49%, meaning that less than half of the applicants receive protection in the EU.

In addition, the EU has issued more than 325,000 deportation orders, but only around 80,000 have been executed, posing challenges in managing removals.


Despite the EU’s efforts to shield its borders and reduce irregular migration, data for 2023 show a significant increase in irregular migrant arrivals. Italy has been the most affected country, closely followed by Spain and Greece.

The Mediterranean continues to be a dangerous path to Europe, with thousands of people losing their lives in the attempt to cross it. In addition, the refugee crisis and the protection of asylum seekers remain major challenges for the EU.

It is essential to address this situation from a humanitarian perspective and to seek sustainable and equitable solutions for all parties involved.