Unceasing migrant influx to Europe

Friday, 2017-03-24 15:49:07
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A cultural mediator from Italian NGO Emergency carries a migrant baby on board the Migrant Offshore Aid Station rescue ship Topaz Responder around 20 nautical miles off the coast of Libya, June 23, 2016. (Credit: Reuters)
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NDO—The migration wave continues to strike Europe at a steady rate, despite the efforts of countries on both sides of the Mediterranean to stop the influx of migrants from the Libyan coast to Italy. The recent meeting of interior ministers from the central Mediterranean countries in Rome, Italy has shown their determination to address the root cause of the problem.

The Mediterranean witnesses primitive ships carrying migrants from Libya on journeys to Europe every day. In the past few days alone, the number of people rescued floating off the coast of Libya is over 6,000. Since the beginning of the year, nearly 20,000 migrants have flocked to the Italian coast, up by 50-70% over the same period last year.

The Mediterranean route connecting North Africa to Europe has recorded a record-breaking death toll, with about 500 people killed or missing in the first three months of this year risking their lives crossing the sea in the cold of winter.

Notably, among the victims of the migration crisis have been many women and children, who have been the most severely affected. UNICEF has warned of the threat to children on their dangerous journey from southern Sahara Desert in Africa to Libya and crossing the Mediterranean to Italy and other European countries. Last year Libya became the starting point for more than 256,000 migrants, with women and children accounting for nearly 30% of all migrants from North Africa to Europe without family members.

Migration has become a persistent problem not only in Europe, which is considered a “promised land” by many, but also a threat to the security of countries on both sides of the Mediterranean. The meeting of the Interior Ministers of Algeria, Austria, Germany, Italy, Libya, Malta, Slovenia, Switzerland and Tunisia, along with the European Commissioner for Migration, promulgated a joint statement affirming their determination to increase cooperation and information-sharing in efforts to address the causes of migration, as well as to fight against smuggling and to strengthen border security. The main purpose of the meeting was to find solutions to the massive wave of migration from Libya.

The establishment of an operating centre in Libya is being considered by countries in the region to coordinate search and rescues in international waters to share the burden with Italy, which has been forced day and night to patrol and intervene in the waters beyond its established maritime surveillance zone. Libya's UN-backed unity government has also called for EUR800 million worth of equipment to help patrol its coast and territorial waters.

Just 300km off Italy, the Libyan coast is an ideal destination for human traffickers to gather migrants before sending them to Europe. The North African country has been recently selected by traffickers as the starting point for trans-Mediterranean journeys, as the long-running political crisis in Libya has created security gaps.

After six years of turmoil and conflict, many Libyans and their neighbours seek to make their way to Europe with hope of a better life. So, in order to stem the wave of migration, the key issue now is the need for a “synthetic dose” for Libya, which has yet to break free of political deadlock, division and instability. In addition to economic support for Libya, more than ever the North African nation needs to reach a political solution to accelerate the transition under the control of a national unity government.

Reaffirming their determination to support the EU-Libyan agreement on offering training to the Libyan coast guard, as well as providing the country with patrol boats, EU officials have announced their willingness to contribute a considerable sum to the budget. A contact group between European and North African countries has been formally established in the hope of accelerating the resolution of the migration crisis, which has threatened to reverse the development on both sides of the Mediterranean coast.

In allocating EUR200 million to solve the emerging migrant crisis in the central Mediterranean region, the EU plans to allocate EUR90 million to Libya. Italy alone, the country most affected by the wave of asylum seekers from Libya, also set up another EUR200 million fund to help African countries strengthen border control. In this “no-gun war,” Europe emphasises the important role of its neighbour countries, namely Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt.

A comprehensive political solution for Libya is the goal being pushed by countries in the region. It will not be possible to stop the original wave of migration from Libya if the country does not have a national unity government. Libyan stability is closely tied to European security on the other side of the sea. The migration problem is a big challenge and a concern for all, as both the Old Continent and the North African countries continue to be subjected to the “unceasing waves” from the Mediterranean.