Why the Number of Migrants Crossing the Mediterranean is Falling?

Migrant crisis - number of migrants falling
Libyan navy and EU-funded boats credited with reducing migration to Europe. But it’s also because smugglers make more money shipping petrol.


Over the past three summers, tens of thousands of migrants piled into boats to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. This summer, though, the sea was unusually empty.

Since the European Union and Turkey struck a deal in 2016—in effect closing the eastern route to Greece—Italy has been the main destination for migrants. But the number of arrivals there in July was down by more than half compared with last year. In August it fell even further: fewer than 4,000 people came ashore, against more than 21,000 in August 2016. It was the lowest monthly figure recorded in nearly two years.

No one quite knows why. Italy has provided equipment and training to Libya’s coastguard, which has stepped up patrols. The seas have also been rough. But two militias in the western city of Sabratha, thought to be behind much of the people-smuggling, have a different explanation. They claim that Italy offered them money and equipment to stop migrant boats from setting sail.

Italy denies that it is talking with the traffickers. But it does work closely with Fayez al-Serraj, the head of the UN-backed government based in Tripoli, the capital. The EU has given him tens of millions of dollars to improve the coastguard and provide new jobs for those involved in trafficking. Mr Serraj, in turn, reportedly struck deals with the militias and brought them onto the government payroll.

“I don’t think anyone came from Europe with a suitcase full of money and gave it to Libyan warlords,” says Mattia Toaldo of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank. “It’s more complicated than that.”

Any such deal would be unpopular in Libya, because it would strengthen the armed groups that have plunged the country into chaos. But it is unlikely to meet much criticism in Italy, where the arrival of so many migrants has created a political crisis.

Over a four-day period in June, rescue boats pulled 12,000 people out of the water. Some mayors have refused to accept new arrivals. Their more welcoming colleagues have been punished at the polls. In April, the mayor of Lampedusa won a UNESCO award for helping migrants. In June, voters on the small island tossed her out of office. She came third out of four candidates, with less than 24% of the vote.

Italy has also tried to seal the far end of the people-smuggling route, in Fezzan, a vast area of desert that borders Algeria, Chad and Niger. It is Libya’s poorest region. Though it has oil wells capable of producing 400,000 barrels per day, residents receive few benefits; producers fly in staff from the north. A large state-run farming complex has fallen into disrepair since the civil war in 2011. With few chances for legal employment, tribes in Fezzan have turned to smuggling. The migrant trade brings in perhaps $1bn annually.

In April, the Italian interior ministry negotiated a peace deal between two warring groups in the region. In exchange for money, they agreed to stop fighting and work to close the borders. There is little evidence that they have done the latter. With so few Mediterranean crossings this summer, aid agencies believe tens of thousands of migrants are stranded in Libya. Some are kept in detention centres run by militias in the north, or held for ransom in grim “safe houses”. Others stay in the south and find ill-paid informal jobs.

There is one other explanation for the reduced flow, and it may be the most compelling. “The smuggling business is a business. It’s all about money,” says Claudia Gazzini of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank. The traffickers may have simply found a more lucrative business. Petrol is heavily subsidised in Libya: a litre costs $0.12 at the official exchange rate and just two cents at the black-market rate. Smugglers can sell it in Europe (or neighbouring Tunisia) at a huge mark-up. The business is thought to be worth $2bn annually—a sum that dwarfs any aid on offer from Europe.

The western port of Zuwara, once a hub for the migrant trade, has lately switched to smuggling fuel. Residents complain of petrol shortages because so much of the supply is stolen. Libyan ships are thought to bring the petrol out to international waters, then transfer it to non-Libyan tankers.

A team of UN investigators said in June that they had seen “vessels showing suspicious navigational patterns” near the city. But stopping petrol-smuggling is not a high priority for the European navies that patrol the Mediterranean. “It creates a lot less social alarm than the migrants or drugs,” says Mr Toaldo. “You won’t see people complaining about smuggling petrol.”

12 thoughts on “Why the Number of Migrants Crossing the Mediterranean is Falling?

  1. Up to 6.6 million migrants waiting to cross to Europe from Africa: report

    Europe could face a new wave of migrant arrivals this summer, a leaked German government report has warned. Up to 6.6m people are waiting in countries around the Mediterranean to cross into Europe, according to details of the classified report leaked to Bild newspaper.

    They include more than 2.5m in North Africa waiting to attempt the perilous crossing by boat. Angela Merkel’s government has not commented on the report, which the newspaper says was marked for internal use only.

    There are fears of a dramatic rise in arrivals as the summer weather turns favourable for sea crossings. Growing numbers of migrants are known to be attempting to reach Europe by boat in the wake of the closure of the Balkan land route last year.

    READ : https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/23/66m-migrants-waiting-cross-europe-africa-report/

      1. In Africa problems are solved using foreign aid and foreign expertise, not so in Eritrea

        When Donavan met the 400 meters olympic champion Mike Johnson in a 200 meter jippo few years ago, he was asked who was going to win. Donovan said they may run side by side for the first few meters. But after 10-12 meters, Johnson left far behind would be seeing Donovan’s arse “getting smaller and smaller” as Donovan was flying away.

        The Chinese can build Ethiopia a 1000 km railroad in a matter of days. Or a subway in Addis within a few weeks. Or an African hall over a fortnight. And the useless woyane call that development. Eritrea on the other hand mobilising its own engineers is creating 1000 artificial lakes all over the country. People might think that Ethiopia and Eritrea are developing side by side, but that is just an illusion. Few years from now, Ethiopia like Mike Johnson will have no choice except seeing Eritrea’s behind getting ‘smaller and smaller’ as the two countries develop in opposite directions.

        All over Africa, African problems are being solved using foreign assistance. Not so in Eritrea.

  2. We also know Aba Mussie is no longer taking calls from the traffickers. He knows he is being watched by the Italian prosecutors.

  3. Italian minister defends methods that led to 87% drop in migrants from Libya

    Interior minister Marco Minniti went to Libya in an attempt to reduce migrant flows, earning praise and condemnation in equal measure for his approach.

    (The Guardian) – In his eight months in office, Marco Minniti, the austere Italian interior minister, has overseen a huge reduction in the number of African migrants and refugees reaching Italian shores from Libya.

    At the last count in August, the figure was 87% down on the previous year.

    A former communist with deep connections with Italian intelligence and the levers of the Italian state, Minniti is one of the most controversial politicians in Europe. His success in reducing migrant flows has won him praise and popularity on the right and notoriety on parts of the left.

    There have been rumours of deals struck in the desert to induce tribes and militia to end the business of human trafficking. It is claimed his methods are fragile, and leave unresolved the fate of the tens of thousands of migrants trapped in Libya in inhumane detention camps unable to reach Italy and unwilling to return to their country of origin on the other side of the Sahara desert.

    Minniti offered a stout defence of his methods in an interview in Italy this week. His country had faced an unprecedented moment in the history of migration, he said.

    In June, on the way to a meeting in the US, he stopped at Shannon airport to find his phone full of warnings that in the space of 24 hours there had been 12,500 arrivals in 25 vessels operating across the Mediterranean. He feared for Italian democracy. “I had a problem. Should I continue my flight to Washington on the basis of showing the show must go on, or should I go back and by doing so dramatise everything?

    “I thought I had to come back to be with operators overseeing the humanitarian rescue. We needed to transmit a message that we as the government had the capacity to react.”

    The deeper worry for Minniti was that he had already set in train the reforms designed to stem the flow, but at that stage the fruits of his effort were invisible. It was only in July and August that the picture transformed.

    “The crucial point for me had been to go to Libya to find a solution. In Turkey with its migrant crisis there was a strong leader with which to work – perhaps too strong. In Libya it was the opposite.” In many ways Minniti, faced by a fatally divided national state, was trying to create an alternative set of state institutions.

    In February he signed a memorandum with the leader of the UN-recognised government, Fayez al-Serraj, introducing a new level of cooperation between the coastguard and the Italians, including the provision of four patrol vessels. “If we look at results the Libyan coastguard has saved more than 13,000 people – figures that were absolutely unthinkable at the start of the year.

    “But my conviction was the southern border of Libya is crucial for the southern border of Europe as a whole. So we have built a relationship with the tribes of southern Sahara. They are fundamental to the south, the guardians of the southern border, but they had been fighting one another and that meant the southern border was not controlled.

    “On 31 March the tribes came to my office here in Rome. It was a very difficult discussion; 72 hours were needed to to try to find a solution and to build a peace that respected their independence. All this was very complicated, more complicated than you can imagine, but they were looking for a solution. My conviction is that at a certain point [when] these conflicts become unsustainable the important thing is to be ready when someone is looking for a solution.”

    The deal with the southern tribesmen has made it easier to stem the flow of migrants from Chad, Mali and Niger.

    On 13 July, Minniti went a stage further, going to Libya to meet the mayors of the most important 14 cities that were interested. “We discussed a pact. It was quite simple: engage yourself against the trafficking of human beings and we will help you to build an alternative economy. The problems at the moment is trafficking has been the only industry in Libya capable of producing an income revenue.”

    He denied this process involved bribing militia. “We have been quite transparent. We needed to help the communities to free themselves from the traffickers and to produce an alternative income. There is sustained help for the migrants in that city as well as hospitals and parks for children. The idea is to put resources on the table so that a good currency can defeat a bad currency You needed to build a conversation with the whole society. When I met a sultan of the tribes he said: ‘You have to help me so that my children so that can lead a different life from trafficking.’ We have taken these projects to the European commission. These people want to change and it is the duty of the international community to help in this reconversion.”

    Minniti knows there is much more to do. He says, warily, with national elections looming in spring: “I cannot be certain the progress will last.” He wants the UN to regulate the Libyan detention camps, which is difficult due to the current lack of security. More money is needed to help with voluntary repatriation of the migrants trapped in Libya. In the long term the EU will need to find billions to help the African economy.

    In 10 days he will publish an integration policy for Italy covering issues such as culture, language, routes into work for asylum seekers, the dispersal of reception centres and the governance, financing and transparency of mosques and imams.

    “I am convinced that there is no equation between terrorism and migration,” Minniti says. “That is an error of approach, but if we see what has happened in Europe there is a relationship between terrorism and a lack of integration, and I am convinced it is through integration and common values, we build a a security policy.”

    He compares the process to playing the piano. “If you play the right notes together at the right time, you create a harmony. If you press only a few notes in the wrong order it is a cacophony.”

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