Migrant & Refugee Crisis
The voyage from Libya across the Central Mediterranean to Italy is considered one of the world’s most dangerous migration routes in history, and since 2014 has become the main route following attempts to stop comparatively shorter and safer crossings over the Aegean Sea by detaining anyone arriving on Greek islands under threats of deportation. But Europe’s strategy to deter migration in the Mediterranean has all but failed. According to the United Nations, in 2014, more than 3200 people died in this region. And in 2015, the first four months saw the death of at least 1750 people. Since January 1, more than 5,083 men, women and children have drowned, suffocated or were crushed in overcrowded smuggler boats, while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea in 2016, making it the deadliest year on record. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported that a record 362,376 people seeking work or refugee protection crossed the sea between January and December, aboard poorly-made vessels, which are now being loaded with more than 180 people a time, and one in every 41 people who attempted to leave Libya by boat died trying, according, to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Despite the shocking figures and the immense loss of life, the EU response in the Mediterranean has been to declare war on the smugglers and focus on deterrence measures, like stronger border control, rather than on saving lives and enabling a safe passage into Europe.
It's an uncertain future for most of the people making the treacherous crossing. They risk everything for a chance at freedom and dignity and for some, the journey has been months long. They have endured much to finally make it to Italy. There are so many unknowns once on land. Some will get asylum or be sent home, while the majority will end up in an illegal limbo in Europe's underground.
Each and every person making the Mediterranean route has a traumatic story to share. Some flee wars they want no part in, while others face discrimination based on their sexuality, violence, persecution, extreme poverty and destitution. Their journey of suffering begins in countries that range from as far away as Pakistan, to countries across the Sub-Saharan Africa, such as Côte d'Ivoire, Nigeria and The Gambia and from the Horn of Africa, Eritrea and Somalia as well as the Middle East, ravaged by years of civil war, tension and instability. Horrifying stories of torture have emerged from those rescued. The men, women and children were kept in cages for days, holed up in ditches, killed in cold blood, raped and tortured. They know from the start that they may not survive. As migrants pass through Libya, they enter a system marked by abuse, corruption and a near-complete vacuum of state authority. Many migrants remain in the system for months or years, some settling or returning home and some raising money for an onward journey to Europe, that is reluctant to accept them. The people don’t make this journey for fun. They make the journey because they don’t see any other way out. And as long as that situation continues, people will continue to come. Europe has to do more to save lives.
The International Organization for Migration has identified 235,000 migrants in Libya, but says the real number is likely to be between 700,000 and 1 million. “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own,” reads the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Migration, not just asylum, is a human right.
People-smugglers have exploited the chaos in Libya since the 2011 uprising that overthrew Moamer Kadhafi, as armed militants now run lawless Libya from town to town, and have taken control of oil facilities and weapons. The border security is all but nonexistent, corruption is rampant, the coast guard rarely leaves port and the proliferating human smuggling operations are growing ever more callous and brazen. The smuggling networks hire ordinary Libyan citizens offering their services to migrants, to former militiamen and law enforcement officers, due to the increasingly profitable business of trafficking migrants by sea, leaving European governments without viable Libyan partners in their fight against migration. The chaos there gives African migrants who came for menial jobs, even more of an incentive to leave for Europe because of the deadly fighting among Libyan militias, the near collapse of the economy, and the robbery and abuse of dark-skinned Africans by Libyan militia fighters; in previous years they could more easily find work and stability in Libya. The smugglers are even more ruthless than ever and the dinghies they are using to shuffle people across the shores of Tripoli to Sicily (over 330 miles) are of the worst quality. They use ever more ragged wooden and rubber boats that are in every respect unsuitable for the crossing and are carrying far more people than they are designed to, creating the risk of sinking, capsizing or the inflatable tubes bursting under the strain, causing death. According to Europol, It is estimated that people smuggling networks, brought in close to USD 5-6 billion in 2015, along the Eastern and Central Mediterranean routes, from their criminal activities. The profits from smuggling migrants are used by criminal organizations to fund other illicit undertakings, such as the sale of illegal drugs and weapons. The fees charged to smuggle migrants rang from USD 1,000-8,000 per person, while women pay more than USD 4,000 per person on the journey, compared to men, who pay USD 2,000, reported by IOM in 2016.