Crossings on the central route have doubled

Depending on the current situation, opportunities and risks, migrants choose different routes on which to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. If migrating from Turkey to Greece is too difficult, they may choose to cross the Mediterranean to Italy instead. This is one of the reasons why crossings on the central route to Italy doubled in 2021. Movements on the western and eastern routes remained stable compared to the previous year. However, there is now also an entirely new route of travel via Belarus being used by migrants.
For asylum migration to Switzerland, travel via Greece in particular gained in importance last year.

Klick-Indikator Klick-Indikator
Western Mediterranean route
43 200
Central Mediterranean route
67 500
Eastern Mediterranean route
7 500
35 000
Belarus route
9 500
  • Western Mediterranean route
  • Central Mediterranean route
  • Eastern Mediterranean route
  • Balkan-Route
  • Belarus route

No decline in the west

Top five countries of origin

Country of origin Persons Main route
1 Morocco 10 000 Canary Islands and mainland
2 Algeria 9 500 Mainland
3 Ivory Coast 3 100 Canary Islands
4 Mali 2 850 Canary Islands
5 Guinea 2 500 Canary Islands

The western Mediterranean route consists of two major sub-routes. One leads across the westernmost part of the Mediterranean, or the Strait of Gibraltar, from Morocco and Algeria towards the Spanish mainland. Periodically migrants will also land on the Balearic Islands. This sub-route is primarily used by migrants of Algerian and Moroccan nationality. The second sub-route leads to the Canary Islands from Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania. Primarily Moroccan nationals and citizens of various West African states travel this route.

In 2021, 43,200 migrants arrived in Spain – which is about as many as in 2020 (41,900). Similarly, there were no major changes in route preference. 23,000 people landed on the Canary Islands both years. On the Spanish mainland, there were just under 19,000 in 2021, slightly more than in 2020 (17,300).

The two Spanish exclaves in Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla, are a special case: here, migrants scaling border fences are a frequent occurrence. Last year around 1,200 people successfully entered Spanish territory this way, which is slightly fewer than the previous year (1,550). However, on 17/18 May between 7,000 and 9,500 Moroccan nationals entered Ceuta. Many of them were returned to Morocco within a few days.

This route is of secondary importance for migration to Switzerland.

Most important route again for the first time since 2017

Top five countries of origin

Country of origin Persons Main route
1 Tunisia 15 700 Tunisia
2 Egypt 8 350 Libya
3 Bangladesch 7 800 Libya
4 Iran 3 900 Turkey
5 Ivory Coast 3 800 Tunisia

The central Mediterranean route includes several sub-routes that all end in Italy or the sea just south of Italy. It is primarily Tunisian and Ivorian nationals that set sail from Tunisia. Crossing the sea from Libya are people from West and East Africa, Egypt and Bangladesh. Crossing from Turkey are mainly Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian nationals.

In 2021, around 67,500 people arrived in Italy on this route. That is about twice as many as in 2020 (34,150). The last time more migrants entered Italy was in 2017 (119,500). Around 30,500 of these migrants set sail from Libya, around 20,000 from Tunisia, just under 13,000 from Turkey and around 1,500 from Algeria. Other departure points were Albania, Egypt, Greece and Lebanon. The fact that the sea route from Turkey to Italy has gained in popularity is likely due to the route from Turkey to Greece being more heavily monitored.

Until a few years ago, there was a clear correlation between the number of arrivals in southern Italy and the number of asylum applications being submitted in Switzerland. If one number rose or fell, so did the other. However, this is no longer the case.

Fewer arrivals in Greece

Top five countries of origin (Greece, by land and by sea)

Country of origin Persons Main route
1 Turkey 2350 by land
2 Afghanistan 1200 by sea
3 Syria 670 by land
4 Somalia 600 by sea
5 Palestine 350 by sea

The eastern Mediterranean route is essentially composed of sea and land routes from Turkey to Greece. In recent years, only a small number of irregular migrants sought to cross the border from Turkey into Bulgaria. However, the number of migrants arriving in the Republic of Cyprus from Turkey via Northern Cyprus has increased significantly. In 2021, this route was taken by around 11,000 people – this was the first year that saw more migrants travelling from Turkey to Cyprus than to Greece.

Migration from Turkey to Greece came to a virtual standstill in April 2020. Since then, the number of people arriving by land or sea has generally been under 1,000 per month. In 2021, 4,100 migrants arrived in Greece by sea and 4,700 by land.

Due to the low number of arrivals from Turkey, the situation in Greece's camps has largely eased in 2021. While at the beginning of 2020, 42,000 people were still housed there, that number had dropped to 17,000 by the beginning of 2021, and finally to around 3,200 at the end of that year.

The land route was primarily taken by Turkish (2,350) and Syrian nationals (670); the sea route by Afghan (1,000) and Somalian nationals (600).

For a long time, the eastern Mediterranean route was of secondary importance for migration to Switzerland. This has changed in recent years. An increasing number of people, some of whom arrived in Greece several years ago, continued their migration towards Central Europe in 2020, and increasingly in 2021. Switzerland has now also become a more popular target country for migrants.

Destination is mostly Germany

In 2021, the onward migration of people with protection status in Greece increased significantly, many of whom travelled by air. This is relatively straightforward as recognised refugees are entitled to a refugees travel document, which allows travel within the Schengen area. The country of destination of the majority of these refugees is Germany, where they then submit a new application for asylum. As in previous years, the exact extent of migration via the Balkan route in 2021 is difficult to estimate ‒ the figures vary considerably depending on the source used. Overall, the numbers are likely to have been about the same or slightly higher than in 2020. Migration via the Balkans shifted even more eastwards in 2021. The main route currently runs from Greece via North Macedonia and Serbia to Romania and from there via Hungary to Austria.

Migration as political leverage

In the summer of 2021, Belarus increasingly opened its borders to migrants from the Middle East. In the following months, an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 people entered the country by air. Reliable figures are not available. The majority of migrants were Kurds from northern Iraq, but also included Syrian, Afghan and Yemeni nationals.

From the Belarusian capital Minsk, these migrants reached the Lithuanian border and later also the Polish and Latvian borders. These three countries have begun building border fences and fortifying their border protection. The number of people entering Polish, Latvian and Lithuanian territory has since decreased. In total, however, over 11,000 people were still able to reach Germany via Poland and apply for asylum there.

Throughout autumn, migrants attempted almost on a daily basis to cross the Schengen external border by force. The Belarusian security forces did not hinder them from doing so.

Over the course of autumn 2021, travel from the Middle East to Belarus was significantly restricted. In view of the harsh winter conditions at the border and the fading prospect of successfully entering the Schengen area via this route, since November an increasing number of people have left Belarus and flown back home.

Until now, this route has hardly been used for migration to Switzerland.

Main migration routes via the Mediterranean 2014 2021

Since the peak of the migration crisis in 2015, the number of irregular entries into the Schengen area has decreased significantly.

In 2021, 130,500 irregular entries were registered. The breakdown by migration route is as follows:

Central route: 67,500 entries
Eastern route: 19,800 entries
Western routes: 43,200 entries

Figures and further information are available on the UNHCR Operational Data Portal: Mediterranean situation (