What’s Behind the Surge in Refugees Crossing the Mediterranean Sea

The civil war in Libya has made it easier for smugglers to transport people through the country. As a result, the number of people fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea has surged since last year. So far this year more than 1,800 migrants may have drowned attempting the journey

Seeking Asylum in Europe
Many refugees sought asylum in countries like Germany and Sweden, which have been relatively open to immigrants. As the refugee surge continues, debate is growing in the European Union about the lack of unified immigration policies and funding for migrant rescue operations. European foreign and defense ministers agreed on May 18 to use naval forces to intercept and disrupt ships used by smugglers.
The United Nations called the current crisis in the Mediterranean “a tragedy of epic proportions,” in a statement issued in April. It also called for a more comprehensive response by the European Union.

Deaths at Sea
As of April 20, there have been about 18 times as many refugee deaths in the Mediterranean Sea from January to April compared to the same period last year, according to initial estimates from the International Organization for Migration.
The increase in crossings has mainly occurred on Mediterranean Sea routes to Italy, though crossings to Greece have also risen. The number of crossings is expected to remain high this year. Over 12,400 migrants arrived arrived in Italy by sea in the first 19 days of May, according to I.O.M. estimates.
Operators of vessels used to transport migrants charge Africans the equivalent of $400 to $700 per person per trip. Syrian migrants are charged the equivalent of $1,500 per person to cross the sea, said Flavio DiGiacomo, head of communications at the International Organization for Migration. Vessels are frequently overcrowded and often unseaworthy, he said. For refugees, once the fare is paid, there is no turning back, said Mr. DiGiacomo.
Humanitarian organizations, which are expecting a rapid increase in the flow of refugees as the weather improves, are concerned that a cut this year in financing for Mediterranean Sea patrol programs would hamper rescue efforts.

A Transit Hub for Refugees
Many of the refugees begin their journey in the backs of trucks, which smugglers use to transport them through the desert and into Libya.
Refugees are then left to await transport in small houses where they are vulnerable to abuse, according to Mr. DiGiacomo of I.O.M. In some cases, refugees are held in detention centers until they are able to pay to leave.

The New York Times

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Posted by on Jun 17 2015. Filed under African News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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