Dangerous Mediterranean migration routes are rising
TTHAT’S THE COMPANY An overcrowded trawler off the coast of Greece on June 14 is believed to be the second deadliest migrant shipwreck in the Mediterranean, the world’s most dangerous migration route. So far 81 bodies have been recovered; 104 people were rescued. According to the UNA human rights group, up to 500 people from the ship that is going to Italy are still missing. Only the movement of a boat off the coast of Libya in April 2015 cost more lives (see chart).
Usually small boats leaving from Tunisia or western Libya aim to reach Sicily, Malta or the Italian island of Lampedusa and are often fragile. The ship involved in the latest disaster, however, left the eastern Libyan port of Tobruk and was probably heading for Sicily or the southern Italian mainland. These routes are much longer and require larger and more stable boats. Emergencies at sea affecting such ships are less common, but when they do occur they can cause hundreds of deaths.
In the last 12 months traffic across the Mediterranean has increased, alarming governments in southern Europe. In 2022, 34,600 migrants had crossed the sea by the end of May. In the first five months of this year, 65,000 made the trip. Although the number of people arriving is rising, it is far below the level reached in 2015 and 2016, when hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis fled conflict at the a house
Europol, the EU’s police agency, saying one reason for the recent increase is the end of the covid-19 pandemic; another is that governments are close to closing the land route from Turkey to Croatia and beyond. NGOAn examination of streams from North Africa points to two additional features. The first is the poor state of the economy in Tunisia and the hostility shown by its president, Kais Saied, towards migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. In February, he accused them of trying to undermine his country’s Arab identity. On June 11, Ursula von der Leyen, the EU The president of the Commission, and Giorgia Meloni and Mark Rutte, the prime ministers of Italy and the Netherlands, met with Mr. Saied in Tunis to try to secure his cooperation in managing the flow migrants During her visit, Ms von der Leyen offered a €1bn ($1.1bn) loan for Tunisia’s struggling economy.
The second reason has been the gradual re-establishment of conditions in Libya that are favorable to people smuggling. The criminal networks that profit from irregular migration need protection from the militias that control much of the country. And cooperation between militias can be necessary if migrants need to be moved from one territory to another. But ties between them were broken in 2019 by a conflict that lasted about a year and a half and prompted Khalifa Haftar, the de facto ruler of the east, to assert his control over all of Libya. The fight ended in mid-2020, but by then covid had started disrupting both legal and illegal travel. The latest disaster is no more likely than the previous ones to deter refugees and those willing to risk everything for a better life in the rich world. ■