On migration in the Mediterranean

There has been an odd meme spreading around since the tragic deaths of hundreds of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean over the last week. The idea, widely spread by the press and politicians, is that Libya is the source of all these problems. For example, in Politico:

One EU migration official spelled out just what would be needed to stop the flood of people seeking refuge in Europe.

“You have to stabilize the situation in the countries of origin,” she said. That means figuring out a way to return order to Libya, which has descended into civil war and chaos following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship in 2011. That was the result of a NATO bombing campaign led by EU countries.

Libya is not the country of origin or the source of the migration, for the most part. It is a largely a transit country, and if you look at the country of origin of migrants you will see that many of them are not just economic migrants. Many, perhaps most, appear to be fleeing conflict zones or repressive regimes – Syria, Gaza, Somalia, Nigeria, Eritrea (where many migrants say they are escaping military service). So surely EU officials should be thinking about addressing the conflicts themselves, or at least the humanitarian crisis they engender? This seems to be particularly the case in Syria, since the humanitarian response (with chronic recurrent shortfalls in funding for refugee camps) has been largely inadequate.

The stats (for Italy) seem to bear this out:


The focus on Libya, while certainly warranted, gives the impression that if Libya had a strong government and was not in a state of complete chaos, the situation would be much better. Perhaps in terms of people trying to cross Europe. But the migrants would still be around, trying to come in through other routes or reaching other countries.

Below are some links collected on this issue.

  • Good piece in the Guardian, as well as this moving video from Syrians who made the trip across the sea:
  • Also in the Guardian, our friend Patrick Kingsley has an interesting report on smugglers in Zwara, in northwestern Libya, where many boats depart from. But the smugglers’ claim that if Berbers in the area had received better treatment they would not be smuggling is utter BS. And Europe editor Ian Traynor argues there is little the EU can actually do about it - it’s up to member states, not Brussels. Hakim Bello, a Nigerian who made the crossing, tells his story.
  • Some interesting report on what the EU is planning to do about the crisis on the new Politico Europe site, here and here. There will be a EU Council meeting on this Thursday ahead of a new migration policy expected to be adopted in May. And here is the EU’s 10-point plan to deal with the migrant crisis.
  • Good maps and infographics in the NYT.
  • Australian PM Tony Abbott advises the EU to turn back boats and not accept any migrants.
  • In the New Yorker, Mattathias Schwartz argues that EU restrictions on immigration are a bit like prohibition: “Like drug prohibition, it is a supply-side solution, and it is a failure.”
  • Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky says a comprehensive resettlement program from conflict zones is needed, not just involving Europe.
  • Mixed Migration: Libya At The Crossroads - an extensive report by Altai.