Migrant tragedy continues to unfold off Libya’s coast
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.