Mediterranean migrant mystery

Michael Peel, Mehreen Khan — Sept 6, 2017

African migrants

The number of migrants who arrived in Italy by sea tumbled in August. That’s a striking change on a central Mediterranean route that had remained busy even as traffic to the east dwindled.

As the European Commission presents its full data on migrant flows on Wednesday the questions to ask are why, and at what cost?

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has already said that just 3,813 people landed in August in Italy, which accounts for the overwhelming bulk of migrant sea arrivals in Mediterranean EU countries. That’s just a third of July’s figure and well under a fifth of the number for August last year. The EU’s latest figures are expected to be similar.

The decline in overall Mediterranean arrivals was driven by Turkey’s agreement in March 2016 to take back migrants who had crossed to Greek islands.

The estimated 126,000 who arrived by sea in EU Mediterranean countries this year is barely a third of last year’s total and is a small fraction of the more than 1m who crossed in 2015. Even so, more than 2,400 people are thought to have died or been lost in the Mediterranean in 2017 — almost one fatality for every 50 who made it.

Experts warn against reading too much into sharp monthly movements in ever fluctuating arrival numbers. But the dip comes after EU action, such as funding a crackdown on smuggling centres in Niger through which migrants crossed the Sahara and travelled on to Europe. Brussels has also trained coastguards in Libya to intercept migrant boats.

If the impact of these measures is unclear, the same can be said for how the clampdowns are being conducted, particularly in the chaos of Libya. Brussels says it is putting in place a monitoring mechanism for the coastguard there. The International Organization for Migration has described conditions in the country’s migrant detention centres as “unacceptable”.

The Turkey deal last year had pros and cons that were pretty obvious when it was signed. The same can’t yet be said of the strategy that may be behind this year’s sharp fall in migrant numbers to the west.

Chart du jour: what happened to the Med route?

migrant arrivals slump

Click to enlarge

Last August, more than 21,000 migrants arrived in Italy by sea, according to the UNHCR. That figure has fallen by more than 80 per cent to 3,813 this year.


Continues …

Comment — Sept 8, 2017

Migrants wait aboard a partially punctured rubber boat during a rescue operation off the coast of Libya. Click to enlarge

Migrants wait aboard a partially punctured rubber boat during a rescue operation off the coast of Libya. Click to enlarge

Almost overnight there has been a dramatic fall in the number of migrants leaving Libyan coastal waters for Europe.
There’s a number of reasons for this but the Financial Times seems unable or unwilling to spell them out. So we will.
First and foremost, the Libyan Coast Guard has begun to enforce the rule of law in the seas around the North African nation. Prior to this boatloads of potential migrants would set off from Libya and simply drift in Libya’s coastal waters.
There they would wait for one of the migrant “rescue services” to pick them up from where they would be ferried — not back to Libya — but onto to their ultimate destination, migrant reception centres in southern Europe.
In effect the various “rescue” groups were running ferries between Libyan coastal waters and southern Europe.
However, after the Libyan Coast Guard threatened to open fire on the “charity” group’s boat the service was suspended. Other NGOs followed and almost overnight the Mediterranean migrant crisis came to an end.
According to the Telegraph, after the Libyan Coast Guard began enforcing the rule of law:
The Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station, which was founded by a pair of philanthropists, said it wanted nothing to do with Libya’s interception of migrant boats leaving its coast….
“At present, there are too many questions without an answer, and too many doubts about those trapped (in) or forced back to Libya,” said Regina Catrambone, the co-founder of MOAS.
“MOAS does not want to become part of a scenario where no one pays attention to the people who deserve protection, instead only focusing on preventing them from arriving on European shores with no consideration of their fate when trapped on the other side of the sea.
“In light of increasing instability in the Mediterranean Sea and our determination to continue our humanitarian operations, we have taken the decision that the MOAS flagship vessel, the Phoenix, will be redeployed for its second mission in the Bay of Bengal.”
Who are these rich “philanthropists” who bankrolled the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean? Wikipedia claims one is Regina Catrambone, who made her fortune from the Tangiers Insurance Group, which makes money insuring people who work in conflict zones.
I don’t know whether she did, or whether she’s simply being used as a front to banroll the migrant crisis, but you get the picture.
The “migrant crisis” is being bankrolled by a wealthy few. To what end? Apart from an ultimate reduction in labour costs in unskilled jobs, it also helps create social instability, which the very rich can also profit from. In other words it helps the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. Ed.
 Also see:
No migrant deaths in Mediterranean in last 20 days

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