STRASBOURG, France - More than 276,000 irregular migrants entered the European Union last year, more than double in 2013, the bloc's commissioner for migration and home affairs, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said Tuesday.
"In 2014, more than 276,000 migrants arrived in the EU, representing an increase of 138 per cent compared to the previous year," Avramopoulos told the European Parliament.
He said some 207,000 of the arrivals landed on European shores via the Mediterranean Sea, where smugglers are now packing ships with hundreds of people fleeing Syria, other parts of the Middle East and Africa, then abandoning them on the water.
"Smugglers are finding new routes to Europe and are employing new methods in order to exploit desperate people who are trying to escape conflict and war," Avramopoulos said in a speech.
Since September, more than 12 cargo ships smuggling people have arrived in Europe, mainly Italy. In the past, traffickers used small boats.
"Better coordination and a more comprehensive approach will help to address the roots of the current flows of irregular migrants and of smuggling," he added.
Avramopoulos said the EU was in close contact with officials in Ankara to "adapt our strategies" now that Turkey has become an alternative route for smugglers.
He said EU member states have offered more than 36,000 places for Syrian refugees - some 3.5 million have already fled to neighbouring states - but Brussels must still "increase the number of refugees resettled in EU countries".