A huge wave of migration across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe has created a delicate problem for leaders.
Some European politicians who discourage illegal immigration don’t want to make it too easy for migrants to cross the sea into Europe, but pulling back rescue missions likely means more people dying because demand for smuggling is so high.
“The European Union has scaled back its Mediterranean rescue operation, in the hope that a reduction in the number of coastguards will discourage migrants from attempting a voyage that claimed more than 3,000 lives in the past year,” Patrick Kingsley reported for The Guardian in January.
“But such a strategy underestimates the demand for smugglers such as Abu Hamada. Last year, he trafficked an estimated 10,000 people, and this year’s figure could be even higher.”
Reuters notes that critics describe Europe’s strategy as “letting people drown to deter others in desperate need.” More than 1,000 people are feared to have died in migrant shipwrecks over the weekend.
European Union officials have now gathered for an emergency meeting to discuss what can be done. Reuters reports that European countries have been “squabbling” about who will take how many refuges.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Renzi is asking for more EU resources to save these migrants, despite some arguing that rescue missions create a “ferry service” for illegal immigrants, according to Reuters.
The migrant crisis is now getting more attention, but this problem is nothing new.
Here’s how the smuggling works:
Smugglers accept money from people who wish to cross the Mediterranean into Europe.
One smuggler in Egypt told The Guardian that he charges nearly $US2,000 per person for passage to Europe, a staggering amount considering the conditions on the ships and the danger involved in the crossing.
A Syrian refugee who spoke to The Guardian said it’s fairly easy to find brokers who will connect them with a smuggling operation. Migrants often stay in apartments while they wait for an available ship — they will then go to a shoreline and take dinghies to the larger ship that will carry them to Italy.
Libya is a popular jumping-off point for the ships, and refugees from the Middle East and Africa will often travel along land routes to get to the ports the ships sail from:
Many of those who are willing to for the smuggling are desperate to flee dangerous situations in their own countries.
The migrants are trying to escape “conflict, repression, and poverty” from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, namely Eritrea, Niger, Syria, Iraq and Somalia, according to the Associated Press.
Reuters reports that in the EU, per capita national income is 30 times that in many African states. The EU simply offers better economic opportunities and more political stability.
And the political instability in Libya has made it easier for illegal smugglers to operate, the BBC notes.
Italy is now considering targeting these smugglers in an effort to stop the ship tragedies, according to the Associated Press. But the environment in Libya is becoming increasingly chaotic — the AP notes that fighting in the north African country is the worst it’s been since dictator Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown in an uprising and subsequent civil war in 2011.
Syria and Iraq are also in crisis. Migrants from these countries are fleeing major humanitarian crises that came with the rise of Islamic state (also known as ISIS, ISIL, Daesh), making crossing the Mediterranean in an illegal smuggling operation appear no more dangerous than staying in their home countries.
Hundreds of people on the fishing boat that capsized last week were thought to have been locked in the hold of the ship, which allows the smugglers to keep control of the population more easily, according to The Telegraph. This also means that people are more likely to drown if a ship capsizes because they have no way out.
More than 3,000 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean in the last year, and tens of thousands have reportedly made it across, according to The Guardian.
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