Illegal Migration, Macron & the Mediterranean

The journey across the Mediterranean is about 100 kilometers, less than a day’s sail depending on the route taken; it takes longer because the boats are cramped and are not necessarily intended to get all the way.  Getting to Italy from Libya when the Libyan coast is clear, a distress call is made in the hope that the migrants will be picked up either by a passing merchant ship or fishing boat or by the Italian or Maltese coast guards. In cases where the vessel is crewed, the crew members flee or try to pass as migrants, and often they succeed.

Nearly 100,000 migrants have made the perilous sea journey from Libya to Italy this year, and the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) affirms more than 2,000 have died on that route. Statistics show that between January 2014- August 2017 a total of 2,410 migrant deaths have been recorded in the Mediterranean Sea.

In a period spanning less than a 2years, January 2016- August 2017, the percentage of recorded arrival through the Western Mediterranean route stands at a record high of 120.4% and 4.3% deaths were recorded on same route. Along the Central Mediterranean, -6.7% arrival has been recorded and -17.7% dead and through Eastern Mediterranean -90.9% arrivals recorded and -88.3% recorded over the same period.

Meanwhile, in August alone, 280 were thrown off a boat on Yemen coast leaving close to 100 dead and 50 missing, 30 more  arrived a beach in Spain on a small boat and 17 more died when the boat conveying them sank. Regardless of the frequency of these deaths reported, people still opt for the option; cramping themselves in thousands on very small boats.

The population of migrants from Africa crossing the Mediterranean Sea yearly is alarming. In a data on immigrants across the Mediterranean, the number of migrant death is categorised according to regions. Between January- August this year, the population from unknown regions stood at 1,217, mixed 595, Sub-Saharan Africa 581, Horn of Africa 14, Middle East/ South Asia 14 and North Africa 1, totalling 2,410; a drop compared to last year’s total population of 5,143 as population from unknown regions stood at 379, mixed 3,174, Sub-Saharan Africa 935, Horn of Africa 30, Middle East 397 and North Africa 228.

To ease the influx and curtail the incessant illegal migration trailing the Mediterranean Sea, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a summit with several European and African leaders with plans to boost efforts to curb migrant flows across the Mediterranean and ensure that asylum request is handled in Africa. In attendance would be leaders from Chad, Niger and Libya – major transit countries for migrants, who risk their lives trying to reach Europe, and leaders from Germany, Italy and Spain.

In the summit, Emmanuel Macron, French president discusses  setting up “hotspots” in Chad, Niger and Libya to process asylum applications. But the BBC’s Hugh Schofield in Paris says Libya’s chronic instability would be a major obstacle to such centres operating there. The UN-backed Prime Minister of Libya, Fayez al-Sarraj, is to join the talks, along with Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou and Chad President Idriss Deby. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will also attend the summit, as will Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy and Spain’s Mariano Rajoy.

The risk of migrating through the Mediterranean comes at a very high cost which is largely dependent on the boats capacity, size, difficulties to be encountered and the distance to be covered. Migrants from Africa pay as much as £1000 while smugglers operating from Africa to Europe alone earn about $150m annually as confirmed by to the United Nations Office On Drug and Crime (UNODC) while Bangladeshi migrants are paying between $8,000 and $9,000 just to get to Libya, and an additional $700 for an uncertain passage across the Mediterranean to Italy. This amount differs in regions.

Although in July, the number crossing to Italy dropped by 57% compared with June officials say it is because Italy has tightened co-operation with Libyan security forces.  “Whether we buy into the rhetoric or not, one thing has been made clear: Illegal immigration is a problem reaching a breaking point, and something must be done” Jeanne Marie Laskas.

ENTER MACRON

Knowing the slim chances illegal migrants have at successfully making it on international shores, why then do they take the risk?

Notably most African countries are bedevilled with low employment opportunities, poverty and in some cases, war. Assumptions are, the developed countries offer better economic living conditions and the increase in international migration shows the disparity between developed and developing countries. Regardless, this should not be a reason to risk it all travelling in old overcrowded boats, often dubious of seaworthiness.

This summit hosted by the French president is not the first summit held regarding illegal migration along the Mediterranean coast. One of such summits was the EU summit held in April 2016 in response to the growing death toll. In that summit, leaders agree to triple funding for Operation Triton, mooting operations aimed at destroying the smugglers’ ships because increased military action might trigger increased instability in Libya; encouraging the smugglers to use smaller yet less-seaworthy boats.

Despite the fact that such summits have been held in the past and yet the death toll is still on the increase, the number of migrants using the Mediterranean Sea as an option is still on the rise. What then would make this summit any different from the rest?

Yes, tightening border surveillance along migrant routes and effective government control along the Mediterranean coast could bring a reduction in the number of migrants entering Europe and also cripple the smuggling business a bit ( which does not completely cut off its legs) with reasons to channel their attention to other areas other than human smuggling; this action does not eliminate the root cause of migration along those routes and it sure would not stop those determined to follow their cause.

Luckily plans are already steering towards actualisation of plans to reduce illegal migration as Chad President, Idriss Deby acknowledged in the summit “We are all committed to reducing the damage, the death of Africans in the desert, the death of Africans crossing the Mediterranean,”. The leaders who attended the summit agreed on the principle of setting up a mechanism to identify legitimate migrants who are fleeing war and persecution, and to use the United Nations to register them in Niger and Chad to prevent them being exploited by traffickers.

In 2015 the EU pledged €1.8bn (£1.6bn; $2.1bn) for initiatives to help African countries stem the flow of migrants to Europe. However, more needs to be done in Africa as better policies need to be implemented, adequate health facilities and more jobs created. Favourable working and living conditions would reduce by far, the number of Africans migrating to western countries. All these will significantly aid the plans to tighten border surveillance along migrant routes.