The Malta Independent 21 October 2019, Monday

Migrant routes: A shift back to the Med?

Saturday, 19 March 2016, 08:34 Last update: about 5 years ago

European leaders were yesterday trying to seal a deal with Turkey on the issue of migration and repatriation of migrants in return for closer ties, fast tracking EU membership talks and  financial aid.

But as the discussions were being hammered out, there have already been warning signs that the crackdown on the Turkish points of departure to Greece could spark a fresh wave of departures from Libya.

As the Syrian civil war grew in scale and ferocity, the number of people who fled increased dramatically. And the quickest way out was through Turkey and up the Balkans. Europe, previously impassive, sparked into action on an individual sovereign level and anything from fences to razor wire were put up in an attempt to keep them out or push them back.

Still, the human surge continued. The Libya route, on the other hand, went into a lull. Islamic State has increased its presence there in the lawless desert and isolated  central coastal towns and cities. Frontex also increased its presence and British Navy also carried out a tour of duty to rescue migrants. It is also widely understood that the Italians – at least for a while – were taking all rescued migrants in.

Then, suddenly, something changed. For at least six months, there have been very few reports of migrant departures from Libya. Given that the crisis was centred on the Continent, rather than the periphery of Europe, Southern states such as ours have been lulled into a false sense of security. Alarm bells have begun sounding however. Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech raised concerns during a recent EU meeting in Brussels. And those concerns were echoed by the Prime Minister yesterday during an EU sideline meeting specifically about Libya involving the leaders of the UK, Spain, Italy France and Germany.

Dr Muscat said that while the Libya route has not been used much of late, that could all change in the blink of an eye, and that Europe should not be caught napping again. He said that the EU needs a specific plan of how to deal with any potential crisis.

His fears are not unfounded. On Thursday night, Italian authorities were quoted as saying that good weather was the main factor behind a spike in migrant crossings from Libya, with ships picking up 3,100 migrants over the past three days.

712 migrants were picked up Thursday on top of 2,400 the two previous days, all in small, flimsy rubber dinghies in international waters near Libya. Three bodies were found during rescues by mostly Italian ships.

The UN refugee agency sayid 9,800 migrants have arrived in Italy this year, compared with 7,400 in the same period last year. Spokeswoman Barbara Molinario said that it was too early to speak of trends and this kind of concentration in short periods is not unprecedented. As Turkey continues to put pressure on migrant departure points, we might see a paradigm shift to North Africa once again. What, however, is not being factored in is that with IS’ dwindling oil sales, they will need to look for another source of revenue. And that source could very well be human trafficking. Trafficking people is a hugely profitable business, and we all know IS is capable of. 

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