The increasing number of migrants that are crossing the Strait of Sicily is upsetting. In the first two months of 2015, almost 8000 arrived in Italy which is a rise of 43 percent compared to the previous year. Human traffickers are taking more and more advantage of the critical situation in North Africa. They use unsafe and overcrowded boats to shuttle migrants over the Mediterranean Sea, charging up to $7,000 dollars per person. This sea crossing which connects the North African and Italian coasts has become the most often frequented route of migrants to reach the European continent. As the numbers of migrants and deaths are increasing, the question arises how the European Union will deal with this issue.
Italy set up the operation Mare Nostrum in October 2013 with the aim to solve the issue of the increase in migrants arriving in Italy (primarily in Sicily) coasts. The operation ended only one year after it was introduced with the result of saving more than 140,000 lives. It has been replaced by Triton, led by the EU border agency Frontex. Mare Nostrum operated in international waters while Triton is only active within 30 miles off the Italian coast, raising concerns that more migrants might face death in the challenge to reach the European continent. This could, however, fail the aim of migration protection and it is high time that EU members show more solidarity and take responsibility to secure safer paths for the migrants to get to Europe. So far, the EU has shown little solidarity with migrants themselves but also with Italy as the affected country. There is also lack of support from the member states for both Italy and the migration issue. The British government, for instance, refused to contribute to rescue missions as this kind of operations can be seen as “pull factor” to even encourage migrants to cross the strait of Sicily, putting their lives at risk assuming that they will be rescued.
The establishment of processing centres outside the EU could be one step towards confronting the issue of mass movements. The aim here is to process asylum request applications before entering European territory which could reduce the numbers of illegal migrants. The smugglers, however, are a much more complex subject. The next challenge for the EU will be on how to stop this network of individuals cooperating with each other in such an immoral system.
Mareike Thiel, Global Europe Centre, University of Kent
Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Global Europe Centre, University of Kent