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Europe could see record numbers trying to reach its borders this year, agency says

FILE PHOTO: Tunisian coast guards try to stop migrants at sea, off Sfax

WARSAW (Reuters) - The European Union could see another record number of people seeking to reach its borders this year via irregular crossings, with more migrants driven by poverty and climate change rather than conflict, the EU's Frontex border agency said on Friday.

Frontex reported some 330,000 unauthorised arrivals via all routes last year, the highest since 2016, with the increased numbers provoking harsher anti-immigration rhetoric in EU states including Denmark, the Netherlands and Austria.

More than one million people - mostly fleeing the war in Syria - reached Europe's shores in 2015, prompting the European Union to tighten external borders and asylum laws.

So far this year, Frontex said, the number of people trying to reach European shores from North Africa via routes heading towards Italy has increased by 292% between January and April compared to the same four months in 2022, to more than 42,000.

Irregular crossings decreased via the less popular western and eastern Mediterranean, as well the Balkans and Poland, with a total of nearly 80,700 people detected.

Hans Leijtens, who took over the helm of Frontex in March, said the number of people from sub-Saharan Africa was on the rise, suggesting a shift in migration patterns towards those fleeing poverty and climate change rather than war.

"This year could be another record high and if you look at the demography of migrants, the question is whether it will be over in a year," he told Reuters. "The composition of the flow is more solid, not triggered by an event."

(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Nick Macfie)