The July 25 shipwreck of a migrant boat that left at least 115 dead as of reports from July 27, represents the latest illustration of the never-ending humanitarian crisis taking place in the Mediterranean as refugees and migrants attempt to reach Europe from Libyan shores. According to the latest reports, several dinghies departed from the port city of al-Khoms in western Libya before capsizing approximately 8 kilometres off Libyan shores. At least 323 additional survivors were brought back to detention centres after being rescued at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard.
While the number of people attempting to reach Europe has considerably decreased, from an average of 150,000 arrivals in Italy between 2014-2016 to 20,000 in 2018, the journeys have become considerably more dangerous, with scenes as the above becoming a routine off Libyan shores. The main reason behind this dramatic decrease is the collaboration between the European Union (EU), particularly Italy with the Libyan authorities, where the latter are responsible for preventing migrants from departing towards Europe. This is done firstly by tackling migration routes and more importantly, by commanding the Libyan Coast Guard to patrol their territorial waters and seize and detain any migrant ship attempting to reach Europe illegally.
This strategy is part of a broader plan to curtail migration to the EU, particularly following the scores of Syrian refugees that reached the community in 2015 leading to an outcry by wide sectors within member states, especially those most affected by migration like Italy. Many scholars have baptised this plan as “Fortress Europe”, which consists of expanding the EU borders in terms of security and policing, in order to clamp down on migration both in the Sahel and the Sahara region even before migrants reach Europe. In this sense, the EU has spent billions in aid on countries that are the main transit hubs for migration like Niger and Libya in order to, in other words, “absorb these migration waves”, by tackling trafficking networks and detaining migrants in EU-funded detention facilities in those countries.
This anti-migration strategy has had a huge backlash among humanitarian organisations, who question the morality and even legality of these measures. Indeed, said questions have only risen since the Italian government prevented the operation of rescue operations by international NGOs at sea in 2018, with many wondering how an institution as the EU that pretends to be a beacon of civility and human rights allows people to die at sea?
Data gathered by international institutions strongly suggests that since the establishment of the collaboration with the Libyan authorities, the attempts to cross the Mediterranean have become considerably deadlier, as migrants take longer and more dangerous routes to avoid detection. In this context, as of mid-2018, the percentage of people that either died or disappeared at sea from those taking the journey rose to 9.8% of the total, from an average of approximately 3% in previous years.
Bearing in mind that more than 300 people already lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean this year, the question that remains is what is the human cost that has to be paid before the international community and especially the EU take multi-faceted measures in order to tackle the crisis?