John Stevens, Daily Mail, March 30, 2016
Thousands of migrants are making the perilous crossing from Libya into Italy since the EU crackdown on the route from Turkey to Greece.
Yesterday alone the Italian coastguard picked up 1,569 migrants in 11 separate operations off the Libyan coast in a new indication that the main route into Europe is shifting back.
A further 1,500 were rescued in the Mediterranean over the weekend, adding to fears that calmer seas and warmer weather will encourage yet more to make the crossing.
Figures from the UN’s refugee agency showed that 17,500 migrants have arrived in Italy via war-torn Libya this year, up around 40 per cent on 12 months previously.
Nearly a fortnight ago EU leaders agreed a £4.7billion deal with Turkey to try to shut down the route across the Aegean from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands.
However, concerns are growing that the plan, which includes an agreement to send back all arrivals, will drive people to make the more dangerous crossing from north Africa instead.
Libyan officials are also threatening to ‘open the floodgates’ and let thousands pour into Europe unless they receive more help combating the people traffickers.
European Council president Donald Tusk, who negotiated the EU-Turkey deal, last night acknowledged that leaders now needed to focus on the risk of the route shifting back to Italy.
‘I trust that progress will be made on the Turkish plan,’ he said. ‘This is crucial in addressing the humanitarian crisis in Greece.
‘Let us not forget though that there is still work ahead of us on other migration routes to Europe, including the central Mediterranean route. This is what we should be focusing on.’
Libya has long been a stepping stone for migrants seeking a better life in Europe, but the 185-mile crossing to Italy is more lethal than other routes.
Mortality figures compiled by the International Organisation for Migration show that since the start of 2014, 6,175 have died on the crossing, which amounts to around one for every 54 migrant who makes it.
Some 800 people drowned in a single sinking off the Italian island of Lampedusa last April.
At the same time, 1,161 people are known to have died on the Aegean route from Turkey to Greece – one for every 893 successful crossings.
EU chiefs have privately warned that an extra 450,000 migrants could attempt to reach Europe this summer as a result of the crisis in Libya.
David Cameron has called for a dramatic escalation in efforts to stem the human tide, including the use of warships.
Navy and coastguard ships are currently deployed off the Libyan coast as part of the EU’s anti-trafficking Operation Sophia.
Once picked up, migrants are ferried to ‘hotspot’ processing centres in Italy, where there are already 106,000 arrivals waiting to be dealt with.