Migrant tragedy continues to unfold off Libya’s coast

Sunday 05/06/2016
There are about 100 crossing points from Libya

TUNIS - The 85 decomposed bodies of migrants that washed up near the western Liby­an city of Zuwara on June 2nd reflect the persistence of the tragedy that continues to un­fold despite European efforts.
Twenty-four EU countries have deployed military ships and aero­planes with the declared aim of tackling the “root causes” of the smuggling of migrants but crit­ics say the move is turning into a search-and-rescue operation. Brit­ish media branded it an illegal mi­gration “ferry service”.
There are about 100 crossing points from Libya stretching over the 2,000km coast. Hundreds of autonomous Libyan militia groups roam the North African country’s landscape, some of them backing the UN-brokered Government of National Accord.
After the 2011 uprising in Libya, the country became fertile ground for smugglers, who often work with the militias. People trafficking is intertwined with that of drugs and fuel, coast guards say.
Unless the Libyan component of the chain is brought under control, migrant drowning will increase. The number of people taking to the sea to reach Europe via Italy threat­ens to overwhelm migrant facilities available there, officials say.
If European countries were forced to push illegal migrants back to Lib­ya, they risk compounding abuses faced by those people in Libya.
The EU police force puts the number of migrants waiting to trav­el from Libya to Europe at 800,000. The International Organisation for Migration says the number is be­tween 700,000 and 1 million.
With the beginning of calmer summer weather, European lead­ers, who reached a deal with Tur­key to reduce crossings to Greece, have been under pressure to shut down the Libyan migration spring­board to the European Union.
Libya, however, has no state au­thority like Turkey and cannot en­force a possible deal.
If the European Union were to deal with militias it risks scup­pering any chance of sustainable stability in Libya with democracy becoming a more remote probabil­ity in the country, as militias take control.
The European Union and its North African neighbours may have to continue to live with this imbro­glio unless a surge of migrant flows on the back of the good summer weather provokes an international outcry similar to the one stirred by the tragic pictures of migrants struggling to find their way to Eu­rope via Turkey and Greece.
Any strong evidence of infiltra­tion of jihadists among illegal mi­grants may force European powers to look for more ambitious ways to stem the migration flow.
On May 30th, Carlotta Sami, the spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UN­HCR), said about the fate of mi­grants trying to cross the Medi­terranean: “At least 9,000 people have died in 30 months, 300 every month. Is this acceptable as a nor­mality? Is this acceptable?”
The UNHCR said the route be­tween North Africa and Italy was “dramatically more danger­ous” than the one from Turkey to Greece, with the chances of dying estimated at one in 23.