ATHENS, June 14 (Reuters) - Italy passed Greece as the main point of entry into the European Union for illegal border migrants in the first quarter of the year, the bloc’s border agency said on Tuesday, as unrest across North Africa prompted a wave of emigration.
More than 22,000 people were intercepted crossing illegally into Italy from January to March, mainly on the island of Lampedusa, out of 33,000 illegal entries in the whole EU, Frontex deputy executive director Gil Arias Fernandez said.
Fewer than 150 illegal crossings were detected in Italy in the same period last year. About 20,000 more have arrived so far in the second quarter, he told reporters in Athens.
In Greece, which accounted for 9 out of 10 illegal crossings in the EU in 2010, some 7,200 people were intercepted in the first three months of 2011, versus 13,000 last year.
Arias Fernandez said, however, it was difficult to predict if numbers would keep going down for the rest of the year.
Over the past few years, increasing numbers of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants had used Greece as a gateway to the bloc as increased security at Spanish and Italian borders and deals with countries such as Libya meant fewer people were risking dangerous trips across the Mediterranean. (Reporting by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Jan Harvey)