2 June 2014 – Since the beginning of the year, over 38,000 irregular migrants have arrived in Italy, a marked increase from the 4,290 who arrived in 2013. While worries in Italy and throughout the European Union are focused on how many more migrants will come during the usually busier summer months and where they will go, a small number of researchers are trying to understand what has prompted the surge in migrants using this route and where they have come from.
Thus far all roads lead to Libya. According to Italy’s Interior Ministry, 31 percent of the sea arrivals so far this year were Eritrean, a significant increase from previous years. Another 14 percent were Syrian while other nationalities include Somalis, Ethiopians, Sudanese and West Africans from countries including Mali, Nigeria and Senegal.
The vast majority of the boats are departing from Libya where smugglers have taken advantage of a security vacuum created by the fall of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in 2011 to establish routes for smuggling as previously popular routes to Saudi Arabia via Yemen and to Israel via Egypt have become largely closed to migrants.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than 170 migrants have died since the beginning of 2014 trying to reach Europe by sea. How many died of thirst or hunger while crossing the Sahara is unknown, but a report by the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS) describes the Sahara crossing as “even more dangerous” than the Mediterranean one.
“There’s an unknown number of people who don’t make it to their intended dream [destination] whether it be to parts of Libya to work or to Europe,” Melissa Phillips, a researcher with the RMMS who until recently was a senior programme officer with the Danish Refugee Council in Libya told IRIN News.
In just one incident in April, Sudanese Armed Forces discovered 600 mostly Eritrean and Ethiopian migrants who had been abandoned by their smuggler near the Libyan border. Ten had died of hunger and thirst before the group was rescued. Many of the migrants interviewed for the RMMS report recounted how members of the groups they were travelling with had died from lack of food or water during desert crossings.
“We’re not understanding the scale and dimension of the situation in Libya and what’s driving people out of their countries of origin and what can be done to assist them either there or en route.” Phillips told IRIN. Further more she said, “The problem is being looked at very much from a destination approach… but unless we look at transit and origin [countries], we’re only looking at one part of the story,”
Source: IRIN News
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