The Malta Independent 21 February 2019, Thursday

Migration: Greece, the new hotspot

Wednesday, 19 August 2015, 08:23 Last update: about 5 years ago

The strife and fighting in Libya, along with the extended Frontex Triton operation, has led to much fewer migrant arrivals by boat in Malta.

But the phenomenon continues with navy warships working round the clock to mop up the stragglers who find themselves in trouble, sometimes only a few kilometres off Libyan shores. The migration trade is a lucrative one and many are realising that the Libya route may not be the safest one, or the one that offers most hope for success.

In the past, we were used to the bulk of arrivals being from sub-Saharan Africa. But the chaos in Syria and the overspill from Islamic State has led to a massive spike in the number of Syrians who seek a better life in Europe.

Many of the first batches who tried to escape Syria did so through Libya. We remember the heart wrenching stories that were told by survivors who lost all members of their families as the crowded boats they were on capsized and took hundreds of people to an agonizing and watery grave. Some of them still live here in Malta with us. Some of them have moved on. But since those awful tragedies, there has been a shift to the Greek route from Turkey. Many asylum seekers are setting off from Western Turkish ports to take short boat journeys to Greek islands. The crossings are much shorter and safer, but the journey is still fraught with danger. Smugglers have realised that this is now the preferred route, so the charges have increased.

Migrants do not want to settle in Greece. The Greeks can barely (if at all) take care of their own destitute, let alone the thousands of people who stream over their borders. Yet, the tide will not stop. It will continue. Germany has pledged to send aid to the Greeks. Many of the islands that migrants arrive on do not have the infrastructure to deal with such a mass of arrivals. They do not even have the capacity to house them, and one of the recent solutions has been to berth old ferry boats in harbour and accommodate migrants aboard them. But the risk of disease is great. Sanitation is not good, and so many people living in such cramped quarters cannot bode well.

Malta might be breathing a sigh of relief this summer, but the problem has not gone away. It is still there in Libya and once the Greek authorities seek European intervention and get it, the problem will likely shift back to Libya – and by default – Italy and Malta.

This problem will not go away. Many believe that the solution is to close Europe’s borders. But that will not stop the problem. The real solution is to offer peace, stability and the possibility of a good future in the countries of origin. That, however, will take decades. Some believe that it might not be possible to achieve such a thing. August will soon roll into September and the weather will become more and more unsettled. Migrants will be more desperate to make the trip before the weather turns, and that is going to lead to more overcrowding on boats, which will ultimately translate into more deaths. We are still very far from finding a solution. 

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