Migrant Arrivals in Italy down 70% as Libya Block Holds

Fanny Carrier, AFP, November 1, 2017

Migrant arrivals in Italy have dropped nearly 70 percent since summer as a deal with Libya blocks boats, and would-be asylum seekers use other routes into Europe.

Nearly 150,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, but the number landing in Italy is down by 30 percent compared to last year, and has plunged a whopping 69 percent since July, Italy’s interior ministry said this week.

Arrivals in Spain, meanwhile, have more than tripled, with over 14,000 arrivals this year compared to 12 months ago.

The dangerous route to Italy was largely closed down at the end of June by a controversial deal Rome made with Libyan authorities, tribal leaders and—according to Libyan sources refuted by Rome—human traffickers.

The UN’s refugee agency said last month it had found and rescued more than 14,500 migrants held by traffickers in appalling conditions in and around Libyan coastal city of Sabratha.

Locked up in farms and warehouses, the migrants described “shocking levels” of abuse at the hands of their captors, the UN said. Another 6,000 migrants are still believed to be imprisoned in the area.

With the European Union’s full support, Italy has been training the Libyan coast guard to intercept boat migrants—both in Libyan territorial waters and beyond—in a move hotly contested by human rights advocates.

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The drop in numbers from Libya does not signal the end of Italy’s migration crisis. Arrivals from Tunisia have tripled this year, while those from Algeria doubled and those from Turkey shot up 63 percent,

And the country is struggling to absorb newcomers—while reception centres overflow, asylum applications jumped from 84,000 in 2015 to 123,000 in 2016, with more than 106,000 so far this year.

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