Increase in Illegal Immigration to Croatia Following Schengen Admission

Arial view of Dubrovnik, Croatia, showing the historic city and coastline, illustrating the region discussed in the context of rising illegal immigration since joining Schengen.

In January 2023, Croatia marked a significant milestone by joining the Schengen Area, thereby eliminating border controls with other Schengen countries.

Since this pivotal integration, Croatia has experienced a notable increase in illegal immigration, posing new challenges for its border security and overall immigration policy framework. 

This surge has prompted concerns about the effectiveness of the current border measures and their alignment with Schengen norms.

This article, drawing on recent data from reputable sources including a detailed report by EuroNews, explores the multifaceted implications of Croatia’s entry into the Schengen Zone on its immigration landscape. 

By examining the shifts in migration patterns and the responses from various stakeholders, we aim to provide a comprehensive overview of the evolving situation.

Background Information

The Schengen Area and Its Significance

The Schengen Area represents a zone where 26 European countries have abolished their internal borders, allowing for the free and unrestricted movement of people.

Established to enhance freedom of movement and foster economic cooperation, this area facilitates significant cultural exchange and boosts tourism by simplifying cross-border travel. 

However, it also necessitates that external borders be secured more rigorously, requiring member states to uphold strict controls to manage migration effectively.

Croatia’s accession to this agreement on January 1, 2023, marked the culmination of a lengthy preparation period, during which the nation enhanced its border security and administrative capacities to meet Schengen standards. 

This integration signifies a major step in Croatia’s European integration, reflecting its readiness to handle the responsibilities that come with Schengen membership.

Croatia’s Path to Schengen Membership

Croatia’s journey to Schengen membership involved extensive legal and logistical preparations, meeting stringent EU criteria on border control, visa policy, and police cooperation.

Before its entry, Croatia acted as an external EU border, rigorously managing migration flows from non-EU countries. 

This role required significant upgrades in technological infrastructure and personnel training to align with the high standards demanded by the Schengen Agreement.

Additionally, Croatia had to demonstrate a strong commitment to protecting human rights while effectively managing border security, which included implementing robust data protection systems and ensuring transparent processes.

These efforts were closely monitored by EU institutions to ensure compliance, culminating in Croatia’s successful admission into the Schengen Area.

Immigration Trends Pre-Schengen

Historically, Croatia has been a crucial transit country for many migrants aiming to reach Western Europe.

Before Schengen membership, the country reported fluctuating but manageable levels of illegal crossings, primarily at its borders with non-EU countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. 

These routes have often been utilized by migrants due to the geographic accessibility and the less stringent border controls compared to EU standards. Authorities have consistently monitored these trends to adapt their border management strategies effectively. 

Moreover, the demographic profiles of migrants have varied widely, reflecting broader migratory movements influenced by international crises and economic conditions.

Analysis of the Current Situation

Since its induction into the Schengen Area, Croatia has faced a substantial increase in illegal immigration. This section delves into the latest data and statistics to quantify this surge and examines the shifting patterns of migration following the country’s Schengen accession.

We explore the concentration of these new illegal entry points and the resultant challenges posed to Croatian border security and policy adaptation.

Data on the Rise in Illegal Immigration: Since entering the Schengen Zone, Croatia has reported a sharp rise in illegal immigration incidents. In 2022, the year before Schengen integration, Croatian authorities detained approximately 13,000 individuals attempting to cross the border illegally.

However, in the first quarter of 2023 alone, this number escalated to over 20,000, marking a significant increase.

Comparison of Immigration Figures: The increase represents not only a quantitative but also a qualitative shift in migration patterns.

Statistical analysis reveals that the majority of these new illegal entries are concentrated along Croatia’s borders with Schengen neighbors, rather than its traditional external borders.

Geographical Hotspots: The regions most affected by this surge include areas adjacent to Slovenia and Hungary, where previously stringent border controls have been relaxed post-Schengen entry.

This redistribution of migration pressure points to a need for enhanced surveillance and policy adjustment in these new hotspots.

Factors Contributing to the Rise

Analysis of Possible Reasons for the Increase in Illegal Immigration

The significant rise in illegal immigration to Croatia since joining the Schengen Area can be attributed to several factors. First, the relaxation of border controls customary with Schengen integration has inadvertently made it easier for migrants to attempt crossing into Croatia. 

Enhanced surveillance and stricter checks at non-Schengen borders have pushed migrants to redirect their routes towards less fortified Schengen entries.

Additionally, the perception that once within the Schengen Zone, further movement is less restricted and easier to navigate, encourages migrants to utilize Croatia as a new entry point. 

These shifts highlight the unintended consequences of policy changes that, while designed to facilitate free movement for citizens, also create vulnerabilities that can be exploited by irregular migration flows.

Shifts in Migration Routes Across Europe

Europe’s migration routes are dynamic and continually adapt to changes in policy and border enforcement. With Croatia’s recent accession to the Schengen Area, traditional migration paths through the Balkans have notably shifted.

Previously, routes were more concentrated through countries outside the Schengen Zone, where border controls were more predictable but stringent.

Now, migrants increasingly view Croatia as a strategic gateway, hoping to leverage the ease of movement provided by Schengen’s open borders once they have successfully entered.

This shift not only reflects the direct impact of policy changes but also underscores the adaptability of migration flows in response to the evolving political landscape of Europe.

The trend signals a need for a reassessment of route monitoring and border security strategies by both Croatia and its Schengen neighbors.

Influence of External Factors

External factors such as ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, economic instability, and stringent immigration policies of neighboring non-EU countries have significantly contributed to the surge in illegal immigration.

These geopolitical and economic crises drive individuals and families to flee, seeking safety and better opportunities in the European Union. 

Croatia, with its recent Schengen Area membership, has become a newly attractive entry point.

Additionally, the effects of climate change, causing resource scarcity and economic distress in home countries, further compel migrants to embark on perilous journeys towards more stable regions. 

As a result, Croatia’s strategic geographical location and its status as a Schengen member make it a prominent target for these migration flows.

Impact on Croatia and the Schengen Zone

The influx of illegal immigration since Croatia’s entry into the Schengen Area has had profound effects on both the nation and the broader Schengen Zone.

This section explores the economic, social, and security impacts on Croatia, as well as the broader implications for Schengen’s border policy and internal security.

It also examines the varied reactions from local communities and government officials, providing insights into the complex challenges and the need for strategic responses to mitigate these effects.

Economic, Social, and Security Impacts on Croatia: The increase in illegal immigration has diverse impacts on Croatia. Economically, it strains resources like healthcare, housing, and law enforcement.

Socially, it challenges local communities who face sudden demographic changes, often leading to tension and resistance. From a security standpoint, managing this influx is paramount to prevent potential threats associated with unregulated migration.

Reactions from Local Communities and Government Officials: Local communities have expressed mixed reactions, ranging from empathy and support to concern and opposition.

Croatian government officials have recognized the need for enhanced measures and are actively seeking solutions to balance humanitarian responsibilities with national security.

Broader Implications for the Schengen Zone’s Border Policy and Internal Security: The situation in Croatia serves as a case study for the Schengen Zone, highlighting potential vulnerabilities in external border management and the need for coordinated policy responses to handle similar challenges across the region.

Government and EU Responses

Actions Taken by the Croatian Government

In response to the rising numbers, the Croatian government has implemented stricter border patrols and is utilizing advanced technology for surveillance and tracking of illegal crossings. These technologies include drones and thermal imaging cameras to enhance night patrols. 

Additionally, initiatives have been introduced to expedite the processing of asylum applications to manage the influx more efficiently.

The government has also increased collaboration with neighboring Schengen countries to ensure synchronized efforts in managing migration flows and sharing relevant intelligence, aiming to create a more robust and cohesive border security framework.

European Union Strategies and Support

The European Union has provided additional funding and support to Croatia, recognizing the challenges posed by its new position on the Schengen frontier.

Enhanced support includes logistical assistance, comprehensive border management training, and the deployment of Frontex operations to critical areas. 

Furthermore, the EU has facilitated collaborations with neighboring countries to strengthen regional stability and manage migration flows more effectively.

These initiatives are part of a broader strategy aimed at ensuring Croatia can fulfill its Schengen obligations while addressing the complex dynamics of increased migration pressure.

New Policies or Agreements Within the Schengen Area

To address the challenges highlighted by Croatia’s experience, new agreements focusing on shared responsibility for border control and migrant processing are being discussed within the Schengen Area.

These initiatives aim to strengthen the external borders and ensure a more balanced distribution of responsibilities among member states. 

Discussions include enhancing coordination mechanisms, increasing funding for border security, and improving the efficiency of asylum processing systems.

The goal is to create a more cohesive and unified approach to managing migration that upholds the principles of free movement while ensuring the security and integrity of external borders.

Future Outlook

Potential Future Trends in Immigration and Border Control

As Croatia continues to adjust to its role within the Schengen Area, trends suggest that immigration and border control will remain central issues.

Anticipated adjustments in policy and enforcement measures are expected to further regulate the flow of migrants through targeted interventions. 

Enhanced technology, including the use of biometric systems and advanced surveillance tools, and increased international cooperation are likely to play pivotal roles in these developments.

Additionally, a focus on streamlined processes for legal migration may also emerge, aimed at reducing pressures on border controls while still upholding security measures.

Predictions on How Croatia’s Schengen Membership Will Shape Its Immigration Policies and Practices

Croatia’s Schengen membership is poised to significantly influence its immigration policies in the coming years. Expectations include stricter enforcement of existing laws and the formulation of new policies aimed at the efficient processing and integration of migrants.

These changes will likely foster a more systematic approach to both regular and irregular migration. 

Additionally, Croatia may leverage its Schengen status to forge stronger ties within the EU, promoting shared solutions to common challenges, and enhancing cross-border collaborations.

This strategic positioning could also see Croatia playing a pivotal role in the development of EU-wide immigration strategies, reflecting its unique geographical and political context.


This article has delved into the significant rise in illegal immigration in Croatia following its entry into the Schengen Area, examining the contributing factors and the broad impacts on local and regional scales.

Croatia’s situation highlights the delicate balance required within the Schengen Zone between free movement and effective border control—essential for maintaining border integrity, security, and economic stability.

Moreover, Croatia’s evolving immigration strategies provide critical insights for the EU, emphasizing the necessity for adaptive, collaborative policies to manage migration effectively in a dynamic environment.

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