EU grapples for fix to migration crisis

Immigration | Porous borders, political strife, and human trafficking compound the problem
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 4/06/17, 10:36 am

Groups working across the Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday rescued some 750 migrants traveling in packed rubber boats off the coast of Libya. The latest rescue comes as the European Union scrambles to find a viable solution to the migration crisis.

The Aquarius rescue ship, which is run by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders, rescued 297 people from three rubber boats.

“Late this afternoon the Aquarius rescued a further 136 people, including 14 pregnant women and 33 minors from a rubber boat,” Doctors Without Borders posted on Twitter.

Malta-based humanitarian group MOAS said its Phoenix rescue ship picked up some 320 migrants from three boats off the Libyan city of Sabratha. MOAS said in an email its rescue workers pulled the migrants from two rubber boats and one wooden vessel. The Phoenix is now sailing toward the Italian town of Pozzallo, where the migrants will disembark and begin their asylum process.

More than 26,000 migrants have made the tumultuous journey from North Africa to Europe this year, the International Organization for Migration said. The Central Mediterranean route has proven the busiest and already is seeing more than a 20 percent surge in the number of migrants compared with this time last year. About 600 people have died making the approximately 300-mile journey.

MOAS said the international law on non-refoulement prevents humanitarian groups from returning migrants and refugees to places where they might be subjected to persecution. The EU has, in turn, focused on stopping the migrants from making the journey across the sea in the first place, a move that has proved difficult. 

The Italian government announced Sunday it had reached a 12-point deal with 60 rival tribal leaders from southern Libya that would help curb the migrant influx from the region. Southern Libya is notorious for hosting several people- and weapons-smuggling routes that connect to Europe, with different tribes controlling areas along the border.  Since the 2011 overthrow of Libya’s dictator Muammar Qaddafi, two political groups and several tribal groups lay claim to governing different parts of the country.

“A Libyan border patrol unit will be operational to monitor Libya’s southern border of [3,100 miles],” Italy’s Interior Minister Marco Minniti told La Stampa newspaper. “Securing Libya’s border means securing Europe’s southern border.”

Jessica Hagen-Zanker, a researcher with the UK-based Overseas Development Institute, said Italy’s deal with the tribal leaders could potentially have no impact on the overall migration trend.

“It does nothing to tackle the underlying issues that cause migration,” Hagen-Zanker said. “Reducing migration along one stretch will deflect migrants to another route, which could be more deadly.”

One step in tackling migration from its root would involve restoring stability to Libya, said Ebrahim Deen, a researcher with the Afro Middle East Center in South Africa. Deen said providing tribal leaders with weapons and other equipment to guard the borders could further exacerbate the conflict. The political path would involve pushing for a legitimate government and disarming the country’s militia groups, he added. Hagen-Zanker said stability in Libya would also deter some migrants from making the risky journey to Europe and encourage them to settle in Libya instead.

In the meantime, MOAS said the international community could help ensure the migrants’ safety as they continue to make the journey.

“The past years have shown that the migration phenomenon is not going away any time soon, and we believe that creating safe and legal alternatives is the only way to start deterring people from endangering their lives at sea,” the group said.

Onize Ohikere

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

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