Aid groups defend their role in Europe’s migration crisis

Immigration | An Italian prosecutor says rescue ships are making the problem worse
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 4/27/17, 11:59 am

An Italian city’s chief prosecutor earlier this week said he had evidence some nongovernmental organizations that rescue people in the Mediterranean Sea are contributing to the migration crisis overwhelming Europe.

The report follows several accusations that rescue aid groups work as taxi services for migrants and collude with human smugglers in Libya, though some analysts have said their efforts have little impact on the migrant flow.

“We don’t know if and how to utilize this information in the judicial process, but we’re certain enough of what we’re saying: There are telephone calls from Libya to some NGOs,” Carmelo Zuccaro, the chief prosecutor for the Sicilian port city Catania, told Italy’s La Stampa newspaper.

Italy this year has received the highest number of migrants who journey across the Mediterranean from Libya. At least 43,000 migrants have arrived in the country by sea since January, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The persisting arrivals put aid workers to task; over the Easter weekend, several rescue ships pulled more than 8,000 migrants from sinking wooden and inflatable boats.

Doctors without Borders, which works with two rescue ships in the Mediterranean, dismissed the accusations against rescue workers as baseless.

“It’s a ludicrous accusation that’s diverting attention from the real problem,” Stefano Argenziano told The Independent. “There’s a gap in assistance, and we’re starting to wonder whether this is part of a deliberate plan to stop the migration flow.”

Malta-based search and rescue group Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) told me earlier this month in an email that the unsafe political situation in Libya makes it impossible for it to return migrants back to the country.

“Many of the people we rescue initially seek safety in Libya but are forced to make the sea crossing due to the conditions they are subjected to there,” the group said.

While migrants continue to pour into Europe, fewer people are seeking a new life in the United States. The U.S. southern border saw 64 percent fewer arrests of arriving migrants in March 2017 compared to March 2016. President Donald Trump is yet to make any official policy changes but has taken a strong stance against illegal immigration.

Mattia Toaldo, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said there is no evidence such a hardline approach would work in the Mediterranean. The Italian navy halted its search and rescue operations between October 2014 and April 2015 before nonprofit vessels started to help. But migrants continued to make the journey, Toaldo said.

The difference, he explained, is that the factors that motivate people to leave North Africa and the Middle East differ from those in North America.

“The pull factor is that they find jobs and have friends and relatives who tell them it’s hard at first but you’ll make it,” Toaldo said. “The push factor is their economic situations and security, since they pass through Libya.”

Libya’s smuggling network also has become more sophisticated, Toaldo added. The country’s political instability has made room for human traffickers and smugglers to build lucrative smuggling rings with no penalty. In the coming weeks, Italy will begin to send boats and other equipment to the Libyan coast guard in an effort to stop migrant boats from heading out to sea in the first place. But the deal has raised concern that migrants would remain stranded in Libya, where UN agencies have released reports of slave markets and poor conditions in detention centers.

Toaldo said another solution to the migrant crisis could involve an increase in legal migration. He said the European Union could make deals with some of the highest migrant-producing countries in which they receive a set number of legal economic visas if they repatriate the migrants who enter the continent illegally. 

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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  • PaulC
    Posted: Mon, 05/01/2017 06:58 am

    Editor: You have a typo in paragraph six.  Step needs to be changed to "stop".

  • Web Editor
    Posted: Mon, 05/01/2017 11:25 am

    Thanks. It has been corrected.